The Rev. Thomas M. Cummins Jr. spent decades ministering to those with mental disabilities, working on South Hills conservation projects and, into his 80s, running in The Great Race.
Compassionate, energetic and well-organized, the thin Presbyterian clergyman was a co-founder and first president of the Scott Conservancy, which has worked since 1989 to preserve Chartiers Creek and the wetlands and woods around it, in addition to other projects.
The outdoors was one of the longtime passions of Rev. Cummins, who died at the nursing home of Asbury Heights in Mt. Lebanon on Sept. 17. The longtime Scott resident was 90 and had been in diminishing health the past two years.
Until five years ago, he was still participating in Pittsburgh's centerpiece 10K event. He started running The Great Race annually in its third year in 1979. He registered for the last time at age 85 in 2008, when he managed to walk half the course with his sons alongside. He continued taking 3-mile strolls with friends around different trails in the South Hills as a Thursday morning ritual for several years thereafter.
Originally from Wheeling, W.Va., Rev. Cummins didn't set out to enter the clergy. A World War II Army infantryman who was shot in the head in Europe and received a Purple Heart, he tried medical school in the 1940s after graduating from Washington & Jefferson College.
His intent was to become a medical missionary, perhaps working in Africa, so it wasn't a big stretch when he shifted his educational training to the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, from which he graduated in 1951.
He served briefly at several churches, and later as associate pastor at Dormont Presbyterian Church in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but his primary work came in state hospitals. He served at Woodville State Hospital before his work in Dormont, and from the mid-1970s until his retirement around 1987 he was a chaplain at different times at the Dixmont, Marcy and Mayview institutions.
Rev. Cummins lent an ear and spiritual guidance to hundreds upon hundreds of individuals with mental illness or retardation.
"He really felt these folks needed a little bit of uplifting," said his son James of Dormont. "He was doing this in an era where mental health was really going through some dramatic changes," with the large institutions being phased out.
The Rev. John Crist of Mt. Lebanon, a colleague at Mayview and friend for 26 years in a monthly poker group, said Rev. Cummins was quite comfortable in walking the wards of the hospitals, casually interacting with the patients in addition to running formal Bible study and counseling groups.
"He was always around and available," Rev. Crist said. "Helping people struggling with mental illness was just something I think he saw himself as wired to do."
Rev. Cummins was a longtime hiker, gardener and outdoorsman, so he gravitated after retirement from ministering into volunteerism tied to the environment. He was president of the Scott Conservancy from 1989 to 1995, when he and others in the growing suburb wanted to make sure its residential and commercial developments didn't overrun the green space that helped make it so attractive.
Among the conservancy's pursuits under his leadership was purchase and preservation of the Kane Woods property around the county's former nursing home and development of mine acid drainage ponds that are still used to educate high school and college students about sound conservation efforts.
Different groups, including the Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy and Coraopolis chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, honored Rev. Cummins for his environmental efforts.
"He was a person who was highly motivated but didn't necessarily need to be the center of attention," said Jane Sorcan, who served with him on the Scott Conservancy board and became a friend. "He was one who would sit back and listen to everyone else, and then when everything got quiet, he would say, 'Why don't we do this ...' and he would always come up with a very sensible suggestion. Everyone would say, 'Oh yeah, that's a great idea, Tom.'"
Rev. Cummins and his wife, Madelyn, left their Scott home to move into the continuing care community of Asbury Heights around 2006. She preceded him in death.
In addition to James, he is survived by two other sons, Thomas III of San Francisco and L. Marshall of Mickleton, N.J., and four grandchildren.
Friends will be received from 5 to 8 p.m. today at Laughlin Memorial Chapel, 222 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Dormont Presbyterian Church, at Potomac and Espy avenues.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Scott Conservancy, PO Box 13067, Pittsburgh 15243; or the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Pennsylvania, 2595 Interstate Drive, Harrisburg, PA 17110.
Gary Rotstein: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1255.