Long before she became the wife of Minnesota Vikings legend and retired state Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, Diane Sims Page was a fierce advocate of social justice.
Together, they became a larger force.
“They completed one another,” said daughter Georgi Page-Smith of New York City. “They were an amazing team.”
On Saturday, Diane Sims Page, a longtime Twin Cities philanthropist, died of breast cancer. She was 74.
The Pages, who made their home in the Kenwood neighborhood of Minneapolis, founded the Page Education Foundation in 1988, which has provided thousands of scholarships to students of color. Education, they both agreed, was the key to achieving equity, Page-Smith said.
It’s unclear, she said, what spurred her mother’s quest for social justice, but there was a fire within her that drove her and focused her energies.
“She was unrelenting,” Page-Smith said. “She always had compassion for people. … It was in her constitution. And then she took the next step and did something about it.”
She was a powerhouse, her daughter said.
The beginnings of that emerged while growing up in Robbinsdale. Of four siblings, she was the one with high energy, always focused, fiercely independent and very deliberate in what she did in her life, recalled her sister, Patty Farni of Minnetonka. She was the trailblazer — the one who petitioned school officials so she could hold office as student council president while becoming the high school newspaper’s first female editor.
An expert in qualitative market research, she ran her own companies after her start in marketing at Pillsbury. When she left that career behind, she devoted even more time to the Page Education Foundation, which requires its recipients to serve as tutors, mentors and role models for the next generation of students.
“She changed the lives of so many young people,” Farni said. She could see possibilities in people like the fry cook whom she invited to her home to design a garden, Farni explained. He eventually became a garden designer.
As a mentor, she changed the trajectory of many others, family and friends said. “That was her gift,” her sister added.
For longtime friend Kurt Mueller, Sims Page wasn’t just a force of nature, she was his champion. “She was a role model … and supportive,” he said. “She inspired me and gave me a little extra wind in my sails when I was discouraged.”
Sims Page’s death “will be a loss for … those who care about making society better,” said former state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, who often went running with Sims Page when they were younger and later turned to walking together.
Sims Page was diagnosed with breast cancer about 10 years ago, but her family said few people knew that. “She never wanted to miss a beat,” her daughter said. After being in remission, the cancer came back in 2016.
Even so, she had projects to finish.
Earlier this year, the couple displayed a selection of their vast collection of African-American artifacts — amassed over three decades — at the Minneapolis Central Library downtown. The exhibit titled “Testify: Americana From Slavery to Today” revealed the dark, difficult and ultimately hopeful history of black Americans.
One of her latest dreams was to create the Page Center for Education and Social Justice, a dynamic endeavor that could include bringing in speakers, housing a legal clinic and offering workshops, Page-Smith said. “It would be a home for all their collections — a culmination of their life work,” she said.
That dream now will have to be fulfilled by those her mother left behind, Page-Smith added.
Sims Page had a zest for life, whether she was running marathons, making maple syrup in the North Woods or working in her garden. When told she was a bit eccentric, Sims Page replied: “I hope so — I don’t want to be like everyone else,” her daughter Kamie Page of Minneapolis recalled.
Sims Page marked her life by sometimes doing the unconventional as well as enjoying the predictable and simple moments of life, such as stopping to smell the roses after a morning run around Lake of the Isles or traipsing through the snow-covered woods to glimpse trumpeter swans gathered on the St. Croix River.
“It was magical. She composed that outing like you would compose a poem,” Page-Smith recalled of the winter excursion. “She lived poetry.”
Sims Page is also survived by daughter, Nina Page of Chicago; son, Justin of Minneapolis; brother, Gerald Sims of Minneapolis; sister, Karen Ridgeway of Minneapolis; and four grandchildren.
A public service will not be held. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made in Sims Page’s honor to the Page Education Foundation.