Richard M. Cummings Of Sag Harbor Dies June 18


Richard M. Cummings, a resident of Bridgehampton from 1969 until 2003 and subsequently of Sag Harbor, died on June 18. He was 76 and the cause was prostate cancer.

A graduate of Princeton University and the Columbia School of Law, he held a doctorate from Cambridge University in Cambridge, England. After working as an associate at the New York law firm Breed, Abbott and Morgan and at USAID in Washington, D.C., Mr. Cummings left legal practice for teaching, taking positions at various law schools including the University of the West Indies, Barbados, and Haile Selassie University in Addas Ababa, Ethiopia. He married the former Mary Johnson of Southampton in 1965 and after leaving Ethiopia in 1969, they settled in Bridgehampton to raise a family. He continued to teach, including a stint at Southampton College, where he taught political science, but devoted himself increasingly to writing. He was much in demand as an excellent tennis player, having been a member of the New York City championship team from Midwood High School in 1955, and he made many friends on the courts. In summer he could often be found at the beach with a book.

In 1985 Grove Press published “The Pied Piper,” Mr. Cummings’ biography of Allard Lowenstein, who won fame as the “conscience” of American liberals for his key role in deposing President Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War. Still in print 30 years later, the book excited controversy for its investigation of government infiltration of the liberal movement. He subsequently published three novels—“The Prince Must Die,” “The Immortalist” and “Prayers of an Igbo Rabbi”—and countless articles on political and cultural issues. For several years he wrote a weekly political column for the East Hampton Star which was widely read and hotly discussed.

Mr. Cummings was active locally in politics and an early advocate for environmental preservation. He was among those who spearheaded the organization of what was then called the Group for America’s South Fork (now the Group for the East End) and played a similar role in establishing Suffolk County’s Farmland Preservation Program, a concept so innovative at the time that he was gently mocked in Newsday for his passion in defense of “the lowly spud.” In 1971, he lost a close race for a seat on the Suffolk County Legislature against an entrenched incumbent, running a strongly anti-Vietnam war campaign that also established him as a clear advocate of environmentalism and conservation. In 1972 he was a McGovern delegate at the Democratic National Convention and in 1980 he ran unsuccessfully for Congress, picking his party (a Republican elephant) out of a hat because, as he explained in an interview, he considered the two parties “alike and irrelevant.” His repeated challenges to the status quo prompted some to label him a “boat-rocker,” a label he never denied.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Benjamin and Orson of Southampton; and a brother, James Cohen of Manhattan.

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