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The Commons
Photo 1

Randolph T. Holhut/Commons file photo

Charles “Chuck” Cummings is flanked by Timothy O'Connor, another longtime Brattleboro attorney, and former Gov. Thomas Salmon at a 2011 event honoring O'Connor.

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'I think you should be colorful. The world is full of problems.'

Chuck Cummings, a Brattleboro lawyer and tireless civic volunteer, dies at age 87

Originally published in The Commons issue #414 (Wednesday, June 28, 2017). This story appeared on page 0.



BRATTLEBORO—The century-old charcoal drawing at the local home of Charles “Chuck” Cummings — a portrait of his grandfather, a onetime mayor of Fall River, Mass., sketched by the esteemed American artist John Singer Sargent — holds a family secret.

It’s not supposed to be there.

When the longtime attorney graduated from Boston University’s School of Law six decades ago, he was set to join a long and storied line of counsel in his family’s Bay State practice. But the man who grew up sailing the Atlantic Ocean also loved to ski, and visiting Vermont in 1956, he found himself offered an associate’s job.

“I said, ‘No way was I going to come to this small town,’” Cummings recounted in a 2011 interview, only to settle into and savor Windham County right up to his death June 12 at age 87.

“I’ve had a lot of fun in Brattleboro,” Cummings told the Brattleboro Reformer in a 1985 profile. “There are certain things that are very important to me.”

Take the fluorescent shirt and pants, bow tie and straw boater he’d wear to help marshal the town’s annual Fourth of July parade.

“I love wild clothes,” he explained. “I think you should be colorful. The world is full of problems.”

Cummings, born Jan. 17, 1930, didn’t grow up dreaming of adding to the palette of the Green Mountain State.

But visiting Vermont after completing law school, he met soon-to-be law colleague John Kristensen, whom he’d partner with in 1959; his future wife, speech therapist Ann Hedges, whom he’d marry in 1960; and locals such as the late businessman Steve Baker, whom he’d befriend for a lifetime.

To do all that, Cummings first had to tell his Massachusetts family he was moving.

“My uncle, a lawyer, God bless him, I thought he would be very upset,” Cummings recalled in 2012. “But not at all. He said, ‘You’ve got to do what you want to do.’”

A lifetime of community service

Cummings went on to help establish the nonprofit Rescue Inc. and Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development.

He also served on a variety of public and nonprofit governing bodies: a decade each on the boards of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Brattleboro town schools, and the University of Vermont and a half-century on the board of the Thompson House rehabilitation and nursing center.

Cummings won election to the boards of the Vermont and New England bar associations in 1975 and the American Bar Association in 1985, and he was named Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce Person of the Year for 1990.

But he didn’t consider any of those honors to be the highlights of his life.

“You’ll think it’s corny,” he told one reporter of what he’d most remember, “but it is my wife and kids.”

Ann Cummings died in 2006 at age 72 after a life as devoted to public service as her husband’s.

They are survived by three children, Chip, Robert and Peter, who are inviting the public to calling hours Saturday at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church from 9:30 a.m., until the start of a funeral Mass at 11 a.m.

Their father, whose longtime Kristensen Cummings Murtha & Stewart law office closed in 2008, stayed active right up to the day he died.

“I said when I retired I wouldn’t do any more board work,” Cummings recalled in a recent interview.

He then volunteered to help the New England Youth Theatre. Such service inspired the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital to honor him at its 2012 Giving from the Heart Gala.

“For a town to be successful, it has to have people participating,” Cummings said in response.

“Like a painter, he can be artistic or he can be a housepainter, but he sees what he just did and that makes him proud,” he said. “And I guess I could see differences being made because I, along with others, worked to get there.”

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