Richard Cummings

March 23, 1938 - June 18, 2014
Richard Cummings, March 23, 1938 - June 18, 2014

Richard Cummings, a prolific writer and scholar, died of prostate cancer on June 18 in Southampton. He was 76.

As a young man, Mr. Cummings was an associate at a Manhattan law firm, Whitman Breed Abbott & Morgan, and at the United States Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C. He later taught at law schools in the West Indies and Ethiopia.

He was born on March 23, 1938, in Brooklyn, to Albert and Bertha Cohen, and attended Midwood High School there before graduating from Princeton. He held a J.D. from Columbia Law School and a doctorate from Cambridge University in England. After college, he assumed the surname of Cummings.

On Aug. 3, 1965, he married the former Mary Johnson, who is the research center manager of the Southampton Historical Museum. After leaving Ethiopia in 1969, the couple settled in Bridgehampton. For the past decade, they have lived in Sag Harbor.

Mr. Cummings taught political science at Southampton College for a time but soon turned his full attention to writing books. In 1985, he wrote “The Pied Piper: Allard K. Lowenstein and the Liberal Dream.” He also published three novels: “The Prince Must Die,” “The Immortalist,” and “Prayers of an Igbo Rabbi,” and authored two plays: “Soccer Moms From Hell” and “Play On Words, or, The War Will Be Over Soon.” For seven years, he wrote a column called “Politics in Perspective” for this newspaper.

Active in local politics, Mr. Cummings was an early advocate for environmental preservation, one of those who spearheaded what is now known as the Group for the East End. He played a similar role in helping to establish Suffolk County’s farmland preservation program.

In 1971, after running a strongly anti-Vietnam War campaign, he lost a close race for a seat on the County Legislature to an entrenched incumbent. The following year he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and in 1980 ran unsuccessfully for Congress. His family wrote that he was often called a boat-rocker for his repeated challenges to the status quo, and that he never denied it.

Mr. Cummings was much in demand as a tennis player and made several close friends on the court. During summers, he could often be found at the beach with a good book. He was fluent in French, a student of Mandarin Chinese and Hebrew, and an accomplished blues and folk guitarist.

In addition to his wife, he leaves their two sons, Benjamin and Orson Cummings, both of Southampton. A brother, James Cohen of Manhattan, survives as well.

The family has suggested memorial contributions for East End Hospice, 481 Riverhead Road, Westhampton Beach 11978.