Cummings—Frank Edson Cummings, on his 76th birthday, in Eugene, Ore., from acute myeloid leukemia, surrounded by his family. He was born on February 19, 1940, in Berkeley, Calif., to Beryl Snell and Roger Cummings and lived as a child in Ottawa, Kans., where his father taught at Ottawa University. His parents and grandparents were members of the American Baptist Church and served as missionaries in Burma. When Frank was 12, his family moved to Indonesia and after that to San Salvador for his father’s work with USAID. His parents’ and grandparents’ service convinced him to follow their example.
He earned a bachelor’s in chemistry in 1962 from Harvey Mudd College and a doctorate in physical chemistry from Harvard in 1972. In Cambridge he attended the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, where he met Carol Riemer. They married in 1967 and moved to Atlanta, Ga., where he studied the problems of segregation in the South and from 1967 to 1988 taught in the chemistry department of Atlanta University, a historically black graduate institution. For seven of these years, he was department head. He then managed a technical assistance contract for the university for ten years. With USAID, he coordinated programs in Egypt to eradicate polio and control acute respiratory infections. He also developed the first method to measure maternal mortality and started 22 neonatal wards for low birth weight babies at hospitals across the United States. Frank and Carol were active in the Atlanta community, including Atlanta Meeting. Frank served as a draft counselor to young men considering conscientious objection. When Frank spoke about his life’s spiritual journey to Atlanta Meeting, he said, “I had an early awareness of being touched by God, and I’ve always seen my life as not entirely my own.”
He and Carol were instrumental in the meeting’s approval as a place of asylum and sanctuary for Central American refugees. For over a decade they took in people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, serving as a communication link with family members in Central America and arranging for legal advice, medical care, help with substance abuse, and other assistance. Frank shared with Carol Amnesty International’s annual Group 75 award in 1995 for their work with refugees. Between 1985 and 2001 they visited Central America with a focus on El Salvador and Guatemala. From 2000 through January 2001, Frank served as interim regional director for the Southeastern Regional Office of American Friends Service Committee.
Frank and Carol moved to El Salvador in 2001, settling in the town of Suchitoto, where they created opportunities for youth in education, the arts, and small business development; tutored students in English and math; worked with educators, the local Padre, and the federal minister of education; and re-learned quantum mechanics so Frank could teach it to instructors at the university in San Salvador. With the help of other groups, including Atlanta Meeting, Frank managed five scholarship programs, estimating that over 12 years he helped about 160 students graduate from universities in El Salvador. His will allows for these scholarships to continue and will create a new fund to provide recognition and continuing support for youth development initiatives in Suchitoto.
Frank is survived by his children, Mark Cummings (Amo) and Andrew Cummings (Aracely); three grandchildren; and a brother, Roger Cummings (Barbara).