Mary Jane Simmons, a five-term state representative from Leominster, died yesterday in the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center in Boston after a long battle with Crohn's disease. She was 51.
Yesterday, Representative Simmons was remembered on Beacon Hill as a legislator who worked tirelessly for her district.
''She was resolute in her convictions, steadfast in her determination, and undaunted by challenge," said a statement released by Speaker Thomas M. Finneran.
Governor Mitt Romney, who is in Greece for the Olympics, said: ''For nearly 20 years, Mary Jane Simmons was a tireless advocate for the people of Leominster and she will be sorely missed."
In January, Finneran had welcomed the Democrat back to the floor of the House, saying that he and the members had been praying for her recovery. In the two years since she was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, she had been largely absent from the floor of the Legislature.
Crohn's disease causes inflammation of the small intestine and can be difficult to diagnose. Nutritional complications and abnormalities of the immune system are common.
''We are all deeply saddened by the passing of Representative Simmons," said a statement released by the family's spokeswoman, Jennifer L. Flanagan. ''The Simmons family wished to grieve the passing of Mary Jane in private. This is a very difficult time and they appreciate your understanding."
Born Mary Jane Wallace, Representative Simmons was a lifelong Leominster resident, attending Leominster High School and the Leominster Trade School of Nursing. After her graduation in 1971, she worked as a pediatric nurse at Leominster Hospital and later in a private practice until 1986 when she was elected to the Leominster City Council. During her eight years on the council, she became the first woman to serve as vice president and president.
When she was elected to the Legislature in 1992, she was the first Leominster representative to open a district office. During her years of service at the State House, she managed to secure $2.4 million for the Notown Reservoir to protect Leominster's drinking supply and was an advocate for health care and nursing. She served on committees including Health Care, Criminal Justice, Judiciary, and Human Services and the Elderly. She also served as House chairwoman of the Federal Financial Assistance, Counties, and Local Affairs committees.
Representative Simmons worked on several local boards, including the Leominster Spanish American Center and Leominster Historical Society.
She leaves her husband, Ronald, a retired Leominster police officer; two daughters, Katie and Jessica; a son, Brandon; and her father, Wesley Wallace.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete yesterday.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.