LUMBERTON — Family and friends will gather Friday to honor the memory of a Robeson County commissioner who died Aug. 7.
Raymond Cummings, 62, the longest serving member of the Board of Commissioners, died Friday evening at Duke University Hospital in Durham. Cummings had represented District 5 on the board since 1996. The commissioner battled health issues for much of 2019.
There will be a public visitation from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at Heritage Funeral Home, located at 812 S. Main St. in Red Springs. Cummings’ family will receive friends from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. A graveside service is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Friday at Lumbee Memorial Gardens, located at 774 Moss Neck Road in Lumberton.
Cummings served about 24 years on the Board of Commissioners, acting as board chairman in 2018 and vice chairman in 2017. Cummings served on the National Association of County Officials, Lumber River Workforce Development, Lumber River Rural Transportation Planning Organization Transportation Advisory Committee, Robeson County Clean and Green, Robeson Community College board of trustees, as Public Schools of Robeson County Transportation director, and N.C. Association of Public Education Steering Committee, among other boards and organizations.
Cummings also served his country United States Army Reserves, raising to the rank of captain. He served in the Army from Jan. 13, 1986, to May 10, 1993, according to information from the county.
Cummings is a two-time graduate of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, receiving a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1980 and a Master of Arts degree in education in 1991. He worked as director of the UNCP Student Center in August 1987 until he was promoted to Student Activities director in November 1993, where he worked until January 1999.
Cummings leaves behind his wife, Betsy Cummings; three sons and two daughters.
“We certainly mourn his loss and have his family in our prayers,” said Lance Herndon, Board of Commissioners chairman.
Herndon described Cummings as a “staunch advocate for his constituents” who was well-spoken and kind to those he was around.
As the Board of Commissioners mourns the loss of a member, it must work to appoint someone to finish Cummings’ term in accordance with N.C. law.
“Since Commissioner Cummings had not filed for re-election, but still had until the first Monday in December 2020 remaining on his term, the remaining members of the board have 60 days to fill the vacancy,” County Attorney Rob Davis said.
If the seat is not filled within 60 days, the Clerk of Superior Court must fill the vacancy in 10 days, he said.
The person who replaces Cummings must live in District 5 and be of the same political party, according to state law.
“It (N.C. law) further states that the Board of Commissioners shall consult with the Robeson County Democratic Executive Committee before filling the vacancy. However they are not bound by the Executive Committee’s recommendation,” Davis said.
Members of the Robeson County Democratic Party is scheduled to meet 6 p.m. Thursday via Zoom video call to discuss appointing Judy Sampson, a Democrat, to the seat. Sampson won the District 5 seat in the March primaries, garnering 211 votes more than Lacy Cummings, and was due to be sworn in early in December. There was no Republican candidate for the seat.
“This is just us taking action in the process,” said Pearlean Revels, county Democratic Party chair.
“It’s just a matter of us submitting Miss Sampson’s name,” Revels added.
Historically, the Board of Commissioners has acted on recommendations from the party in these matters, she said.
Board Chairman Herndon said there had been no discussions about filling the seat as of Monday. But he anticipated a conversation during the board’s September meeting.
Many local and civic leaders continue to express condolences to Cummings’ family.
“Raymond Cummings was a true advocate for the Lumbee people and the citizens of Robeson County,” said Harvey Godwin Jr., Lumbee Tribe chairman. “He served our community for many years and his contributions will always be remembered. My prayers are with his family and friends during this time.”
Cummings is credited with being one of the original crafters of the Lumbee Constitution, according to a statement from the Lumbee Tribe.
Board of Commissioners member Pauline Campbell said Cummings was a well-respected servant of county residents.
“Even though I have only worked with him a short time, we built a relationship throughout the years as he worked with my husband, Berlester. Raymond worked hard for what he believed in. His death is a great loss, and he will be missed on the commissioners’ board,” she said.
Sammy Cox, Robeson Community College’s board of trustees chairman, said he enjoyed working with Cummings during Cummings’ three years on the board of trustees.
Cummings was involved in decision-making that led to the construction of the college’s burn building, emergency services building and the law enforcement center on campus, he said.
“He was great to work with and always very supportive (of the board),” Cox said.
Cox also remembers training Cummings as he attended the Army ROTC program while at UNCP.
“He was very active in our reserve program,” Cox said.
He also described Cummings as a great soldier.
County Manager Kellie Blue said she will miss Cummings’ “zest for life” and sense of humor.
“His belief was that we may not all agree on the issue, but we shouldn’t allow it to cause anger and dissension,” Blue said. “He believed in the art of healthy debate and thought it to be good for the soul.”
Blue had one statement to best describe Cummings.
“Whatever you want to do, do it now. There are only so many tomorrows,” the county manager said.