Harold Sumerford


The Americus Times-Recorder Tue Apr 08, 2014, 01:42 PM EDT April 6, 2014


AMERICUS — The trucking industry entrepreneur and civic leader was born April 6, 1937 in Americus, Ga., and graduated from Georgia Tech in 1959, with a degree in industrial management. While a Georgia Tech student, Harold married his high school sweetheart, Patricia Davis, with whom he recently celebrated 56 years of marriage. Upon finishing his studies he returned to his hometown of Americus, Ga., to work for what is now known as J & M Tank Lines Inc. While in Americus, Harold and Patsy started their family.

After beginning his career in the trucking industry as an accountant with J&M Trucking Co., Sumerford built the business which included moving to Milledgeville, and led the growth of the company, eventually purchasing the remainder of the company from its founder. Here, through his commitment and guidance, J & M was able to generate unprecedented revenue growth for the trucking industry, but his contributions were not limited to J & M. According to Ed Crowell, president and CEO of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association, “Harold was a highly respected leader in the trucking industry and served on the boards of the American Trucking Association, Georgia Motor Trucking, and National Tank Truck Carriers, the latter of which he served a term as chairman. He was known throughout the industry as both a gentleman and true professional and there are more than a few folk who owe a big part of their success to the mentoring and guidance of Harold.”

Harold often sought the advice of his management team in making decisions and was consistent once a decision was made, according to Melvin Collins, president of Southeastern Pneumatic. As former senior vice president and general manager of J & M Tank Lines, Melvin worked for Harold for 20 years and doesn’t recall a cross word between the two. “A lot of what I use today in business and a lot of my success, I attribute to what Harold taught me,” Melvin concluded.

In 2006, Harold retired from the day-to-day operations of the trucking company and his two sons, Harold Jr. and Peter, took over the business. He left behind a proud legacy of accomplishments, with two of his most gratifying being the outstanding safety record and an industry-recognized service business. Harold Jr. believes that "the legacy Dad left us to continue the success of J & M was to treat people the way you would like to be treated whether they are customers or employees,” and his sons continue to operate by that legacy.

The company is now headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., operating several hundred trucks and tanks with a number of terminals around the South. Son Peter remarked, “As a testament to the way Dad treated people, the loyalty and longevity of key employees at J & M is still the envy of the industry.”

He was also instrumental in the development of John Milledge Academy and was a 12-year member of the board of directors. A lifelong Methodist, Sumerford once served as chairman of the board of First United Methodist Church in Milledgeville. According to son Gene Sumerford, “Dad’s early involvement in the Boy Scouts where he earned the rank of Eagle Scout taught him a love of the outdoors.” He enjoyed participating in sports with his family including golf, tennis, quail hunting and fly fishing.

Daughter, Julie Sumerford Johnson, followed in her dad’s footsteps and graduated from Georgia Tech, as did granddaughter, Ashley Sumerford Holahan.  According to Julie, “For over 50 years Dad faithfully attended football games where he unequivocally cheered on his alma mater, Georgia Tech.  He especially enjoyed the annual extended family tail-gating for the Georgia and Georgia Tech football game which now includes more Georgia Tech graduates than earlier years.”

On April 6, 2014, his 77th birthday, Harold went to be with his Lord and Savior due to complications from melanoma. He is survived by his wife (Patricia Davis Sumerford); his four children, Harold Sumerford Jr. (Shannon), Julie Johnson (Steve), Gene Sumerford and Peter Sumerford (Beth); grandchildren, Brandi Dasher, Leslie Davis, Ashley Holahan, Connor Carlock, Karleigh Irwin, Lindy Sumerford, Kenley Irwin and George Sumerford; great-grandchildren, Trent Davis, Olivia Dasher, Sarah Dasher, Avery Holahan and Collier Holahan; siblings, Ginger York, Nancy Phelan and Rees Sumerford); brothers- and sisters-in-law, Guy York, Bill Phelan, Brooke Sumerford and Mary Frances Stone, and many beloved nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his sister, Sarah Ricketson, and his brother, Sonnie Sumerford. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Boy Scouts Troop 21, c/o J. Michael Greene, P. O. Box 1907, Americus GA 31709 or the Georgia Sheriff’s Boy’s Ranch, Attn: Memorial & Honor Fund, P.O. Box 1000, Stockbridge GA 30281 or online at www.georgiasheriffsyouth.org.  A notation should be made “in honor of Harold Sumerford Sr.” A Celebration of Harold’s life followed by lunch will be held at noon, Saturday, April 12, at Sumerford Farms at 1757 Upper River Road in Americus, Ga., (business casual attire).

Southern Heritage Funeral Home, Pelham, Ala., is in charge of arrangements.