Simone Williams, who was five-feet-seven in the fourth grade, just knew she would play pro basketball one day.
The future high school guard was as ambitious as she was quick, but there was one problem: “I never grew another inch,” she said.
Now known by her married name, Simone Moore, she has netted a career in a field where height matters much less than heart: health care.
During the May 26 commencement ceremony, the Pass Christian native will be awarded her M.D., a prelude to her residency in pediatrics, a specialty well-matched to someone who says she never quite grew up.
“It's one of the few professions where it's OK to play with your patients,” she said.
A product of the Gulf Coast settlement known to the locals as “the Pass,” Moore calls herself a “small-town country girl who likes to fish. I'm looking forward to going back there one day as a physician and give back to my hometown.”
That vision, and her decision to pivot to medicine, was inspired in part by two experiences she had as a child: watching a cousin die from cancer, and helping care for her grandfather, who was sickened by emphysema.
“It was being there with him, making sure he was OK,” she said. “It was seeing how physicians helped him.”
Luella Williams, left, was a vital part of her daughter's support system during medical school.
Inspiration also radiated from Luella Williams, a 1994 graduate of the nurse practitioner program at UMMC who is employed at Coastal Family Health Center in Pass Christian; she is also Simone's mom.
“I hope she works at Coastal one day,” said Luella Williams, as her daughter listened in.
“That truly would be coming full circle,” Simone said. “I was brought up in those walls. I saw how patients responded to you; you're someone's everything.”
Speaking of which, Simone and Chad Moore, a Mississippi state trooper, have been together for 13 years as of this July 16: their two-in-one dating and wedding anniversary. Aided by the “awesome” house-hunting skills of her father Tyrone Williams, a building contractor, they are looking for a place in Jackson, where she will do her residency at UMMC, Simone said.
Married almost a year, they went to high school together, before she left for New Orleans and Xavier University of Louisiana.
“Xavier has a high placement rate for African Americans who plan to go to medical school,” she said. “They constantly make sure you do what you need to do to be accepted.”
Moore was a first-year medical student when she and fellow M1 Andrew Brown appeared on the cover of the Winter 2013 issue of Mississippi Medicine.
Her graduation from the School of Medicine has an ironic footnote: A few years ago, she and another student were pictured on the cover of the medical alumni magazine “Mississippi Medicine” looking down on a 3-D model of the new medical school, which will open after she graduates.
As a resident, she won't be able to use it as much as M1s and M2s will. “But I believe it's definitely what the state of Mississippi needs,” she said. “It's going to help keep students here when they decide where to practice as physicians.”
Her own decision to go to UMMC - as a student and now as a resident - was based on her desire to stay close to home.
“But medical school was 10 times harder than I thought it would be,” she said. “In college, you live for the weekend so you can have fun. In medical school, you live for the weekend so you can catch up on all the studying you didn't have time for during the week.
“There were times when I thought, 'I have no more to give to medical school. My friends are having kids and moving on, and I'm still studying.'”
Her diligence paid off in February of this year when she finished her course requirements, about three months early. And in March, on Match Day - that day of reckoning when senior medical students learn where they will do their specialty training - her medical school life flashed before her eyes, she said.
“On Match Day, you remember all the times you wanted to give up, and all the good things, too: The friends you make. It all hits you at the same time. I'm sure commencement is going to be the same way.”
She'll remember her “support system, which I'd put up against anyone's,” she said. “I am who I am because of my family, including all those aunts and uncles who constantly checked on me, seeing that I was fed; and because of my husband, who would drag me away from my books when I'd had enough. I couldn't have done it without him.”
She'll remember all those calls to her mom - and so will her mom. “I always told my kids, 'You can do anything you want to do and I'll be there every step of the way,'” said Luella Williams, whose son Prescott Williams enters nursing school at the University of South Alabama in August.
“Simone did need me at times; when she called, I could hear it in her voice. It wasn't an easy road, but if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. I'm so proud of her.”
She'll also remember the generosity of people like Dr. Jerry Clark, chief student affairs officer and associate dean for student affairs in the School of Medicine: “You can go to Dr. Clark and ask him for anything,” Moore said, “and he will find a way to do it.”
For his part, Clark describes her as “thoughtful and hardworking. I love the way she sees the world,” he said. “I'm proud to call her a graduate of our medical school and expect her to do great things. I'd absolutely take my family to Dr. Williams' clinic.”
Maybe not everyone in his family. “I decided a long time ago, that I'm going to see only kids,” Moore said. “Kids are more fun than adults. Adults don't bring you drawings. They don't tell you, every time you see them, that they love you.”