New Orleans Business Owner Succumbs to Mesothelioma

A New Orleans business owner who founded a multimillion-dollar chrome plating business passed away from malignant mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive cancer caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos.
William Simmons was founder of Simmons Plating and Grinding Co., a company he launched after returning home from World War II. Simmons, who did not graduate from high school because he joined the Marines, started the business with a $75 loan from an uncle. Not knowing much about the business, he took night classes at a local college to learn the process. In the coming years, he grew the business and expanded operations. He developed new techniques, designed a plating machine, and took on clients from all over the country.

Born in Alabama, Simmons lived in New Orleans from the age of 5 until his death. He was 84. Active in the local community, Simmons gold-plated the altar of the Immaculate Conception Church in New Orleans. He also plated “the bumpers and all else that could be plated” on the famous pink Cadillac that belonged to musician Fats Domino, his companion, Barbara Ferguson, told reporters.

As the business expanded, so did its role. Simmons Plating and Grinding Co. started out providing basic services, like plating, finishing, polishing, and decorating. Industrial work came later, with the development of new ways to coat machines that rotate, such as compressors, turbines, and gears, and the plating of electrical connections. Companies along the Mississippi and in the Gulf region, as well as national companies like General Electric, were customers of the plating company.

Mesothelioma, linked almost exclusively with asbestos, is a cancer that deteriorates the mesothelium – a protective membrane that lines most of the major organs. When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they become lodged in the lining, resulting in tissue scarring, destroying healthy cells in the process.