Elvin and Fleta Patterson Sims Directorship

John Edward Sims

When Elvin and Fleta Patterson Sims graduated from Berry College in 1935, they could not have known that their names would become synonymous more than 80 years later with the institution’s emphasis on leadership with integrity. In fact, they might have protested the honor. After all, leadership and integrity were so deeply ingrained in the character of this dedicated pair of educators that they never imagined themselves special in any way. 

But their son John Edward Sims of Flower Mound, Texas, knows different. He recognizes that his seemingly ordinary parents were actually anything but as they quietly shaped the character of their two children and the lives of countless others – Elvin as a school principal and part-time pastor; Fleta as a home economics teacher. 

And that is why Sims has made a $2 million gift to his parents’ alma mater to fund the Elvin and Fleta Patterson Sims Directorship of the expanding Berry Center for Integrity in Leadership. 

“After I retired and was in a position to, I wanted to make a gift to something beyond what I normally did,” Sims stated. “And one day it just occurred to me: Why don’t I do something for Berry? Berry played a key role in our family. Everything we are grew out of it.” 

Certainly, Ed and his older brother, Robert, have Berry to thank for their very existence. That’s because their late parents met on campus. Elvin came from what was in those days a typical Berry background. His large family lived on a farm about 10 miles outside of Villa Rica, Ga., and although they didn’t have much, education was a priority. When it came time for high school, many siblings lived together in one rented room in town, journeying home by buggy to work the farm on weekends. All became professionals, and Elvin earned a master’s degree in divinity from Mercer University in addition to his Berry physics degree. 

Fleta, on the other hand, came from a smaller family and grew up in coastal Dania, Fla. Her motivation for pursuing an advanced education came from within; she was the only person in her family to attend college. 

When the pair graduated from Berry, they went their separate ways. But when Elvin secured his first teaching position, he quickly journeyed to Florida to make Fleta his bride. They then spent a lifetime as educators in Georgia’s Turner and Dooly counties. 

Both put a great deal of emphasis on integrity and consistently took leadership roles in their industry and community, encouraging their students and children to do the same. In their later years, many past students reached out to acknowledge their positive influence. And now their lives have been memorialized by their son, whose many years of work in marketing for Fortune 500 companies were guided by their example. 

“When presented a challenge of leadership or integrity at work, I often found myself thinking about what my parents might have done,” he explained. 

Among many important responsibilities, the new BCIL director will work with Berry faculty to infuse coursework related to personal integrity and leadership into every major and develop tools and training for students to practice ethical problem-solving. The college expects to fill the position in 2018.

“Ed Sim’s partnership with BCIL will generate immediate returns for our students’ professional development as responsible and caring leaders facing challenging times ahead,” said President Steve Briggs. “We are grateful for his vision and desire to honor his parents in a way that recognizes their life-changing experience at Berry. Because of his generosity, generations of emerging leaders will be asked to think deeply about issues of conviction and character as part of their Berry experience.”