Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Allingham Burks Summers (1898-1977)

                                                                   Portrait courtesy of the Baltimore Sun, 1964.

   The life of distinguished businessman and diplomat A. Burks Summers is highlighted today, and in this case it appears that history's dustbin has claimed yet another victim. Although prominent in his day as a financier and diplomat (serving briefly as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg), the passage of history has made details on Mr. Summers life difficult to come by. While no substantial biography exists in regards to Summers, there are a few small mentions of him here and there in periodicals of the time, all of which aided in the construction of his profile here.
   Born into a family with its roots in Illinois, Allingham Burks Summers was born in Mattoon, Illinois on June 27, 1898, the son of John William and Virginia Burks Summers. The Summers family would later remove to Walla Walla, Washington in 1908, and in the succeeding years John Summers built up a distinctive political career, serving a term in the Washington state legislature and in 1919 began the first of six terms as a member of Congress from Washington. The Summers family could also count an actress in their family, Allingham's sister being one Hope Summers (1896-1979), perhaps familiar to you Andy Griffith Show fans as Ms. Clara Edwards, appearing in a total of 36 episodes in that series.
   Little is known of Allingham's early life in Illinois and Washington. Mention is given as to his attending the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1922 he earned his Bachelors of Science in Economics degree from that institution. Summers had previously attended the University of Washington, where he met his future wife, Helen (1900-1976). The couple married in the mid 1920s and Helen Summers would subsequently find success in her own right, being the organizer of the "Lincoln Day Box Suppers", an idea that would later become a "GOP institution" by the early 1960s. 
   After entering the business world following his college graduation, Summers relocated to Washington, D.C., and in the late 1930s was serving as the President of the General Credit, Incorporated, a firm  that specialized in "automobile financing." Aside from being a financier, notice is given as to Summers being an "international economist" and "industrial consultant", his business expertise being sought out across the world. His small death notice in the Phi Delta Theta 1976-77 Scroll relates that:
"From 1930 to 1948 he assisted in the industrial and development studies of Latin America, South and East Africa, the Near East, Greece, Finland, France, Spain and Portugal." 
 In addition to the above notes, Summers also traveled with future U.S. Secretary of Commerce Maurice Stans on a "scientific and research expedition to Chad" in 1966. Summers status as a big game hunter was well known by his contemporaries, and in the mid 1960s took part in advertising a new type of grill that ran solely on newspaper fuel. As Summers himself related in the February 14, 1968 edition of the Milwaukee Journal:
"Four years ago I was in Africa on a big game safari. The people down there, the Zulus, use beaten up old oil cans (for cooking.) This engineer picked this idea up and patented it.......They're an awful lot of fun and they do a really good job. Why should people pay for fuel when they don't have to? Why carry it?"


From the Milwaukee Journal, February 14, 1968.

   The grill, marketed under the name "Swaniebraai Safari Grill", was remarked by the Philadelphia Inquirer as coming about due to Summers' "personal grudge against charcoal", and after returning to South Africa on business met up with a British engineer named Derek Davis, who would become the actual inventor of the grill. Summer would later "fall in love" with Davis' invention and also "arranged for full U.S. patent rights." 
   After many years of involvement in national and international business, A. Burks Summers was tapped by President Eisenhower to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg in 1960, succeeding outgoing Ambassador Vinton Chapin (1900-1982). Summers officially entered into his duties as Ambassador on September 16, 1960 and served only a few months in that post, leaving office on April 1, 1961. 
   Following his return to the United States Summers continued with his earlier business interests and in 1964 took on an active role in the campaign of U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, who was the Republican candidate for President that year. Summers served as head of the "Sportsmen and Women for Goldwater Committee" and took to the stump in the latter portion of the campaign season, even being expected to "round up golfers, polo players and mountain climbers for Barry."
   In the remaining years of his life Summers was a prominent booster for his old fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, and in 1968 was inducted by his brother Paul into the fraternity's "Golden Circle." That same year Summers also took part in Washington, D.C.'s Founders Day Observances, serving as toastmaster. In April 1976 Helen Summers died of heart attack at age 76. Allingham survived her by only a few months, dying in Rockville, Maryland on January 19, 1977 at age 78. A burial location for both Summers and his wife is unknown at this time.

From the 1976 Phi Delta Theta "Scroll".

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