Milton Cummings

[Age 74] The Johns Hopkins University political science professor was an expert on the U.S. Congress.

August 18, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Milton C. Cummings Jr., an author and nationally recognized expert on the U.S. Congress who taught political science at the Johns Hopkins University for nearly 40 years, died Aug. 10 of prostate cancer at a son's home in New Vernon, N.J. He was 74.

"He was one of the great American political science professors of his generation," said Thomas Greene a retired Foreign Service officer and friend since their student days at Swarthmore College.

"He had a great feel for American political development and could research issues that have a partisan thrust in neutral terms without taking sides. His students adored him, as did his professional colleagues," Mr. Green said.

"Milt was one of the leading congressional scholars in the nation. He was a very fine scholar and one of the best in the field," said J. Woodford "Woody" Howard, a retired Hopkins political science professor.

"He had a wonderful legislative feel for American politics. He understood that county seats and state legislatures were the places where raw American politics start," he said.

The son of an adult-education specialist, Dr. Cummings was born in New Haven, Conn., and raised in Washington and Arlington, Va.

"His parents were both born and raised in Kansas and met at Kansas University," said a son, Christopher R. Cummings of Kentfield, Calif. "He spent time there every summer of his childhood visiting relatives, and some summers worked on his uncle's 300-acre farm."

"His Kansas values were very strong, and that's where he learned the traditional American values of thrift and honesty," Dr. Howard said.

After graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School, Dr. Cummings attended Swarthmore, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1954. A Rhodes Scholar, he earned a degree in politics in 1956 from Oxford University and his doctorate in political science from Harvard University in 1960.

Dr. Cummings worked at the Brookings Institution in Washington from 1959 until 1965, when he joined the Hopkins faculty as an associate professor in the department of political science.

In 1968, he was promoted to professor and served as department chairman from 1970 to 1972. He continued until 2004.

He was such a popular professor on the Homewood campus that his classes were always oversubscribed.

"He was so enthusiastic in his teaching. He had the ability to take a subject, hold it up to the light like a prism, and discuss all its facets," said John T. Tierney, a retired professor of political science who taught at Georgetown University and Boston College.

"He was the classic old-style gentleman who always dressed in gray slacks and a blue blazer, which he wore with a white shirt and tie," Dr. Tierney said.

"There was not a trace of arrogance in him. He was a man of gentle humility, and that impressed me," Dr. Tierney said. "He was a gentleman-scholar and influenced an enormous number of students across the country."

"Milt set very high standards for his students and wasn't a pushover. You never doubted that he could deliver a punch, when needed, with dignity," Dr. Howard said.

Dr. Cummings was author or editor of a number of scholarly books.

"I worked with him for 39 years," said David Wise, his collaborator and co-author. "Our publishers put us together. I was a writer and newspaper reporter, and he was an academic. We worked on 10 editions of Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American Political System that is used by more than 300 colleges."

"We were much like Gilbert and Sullivan, and in those 39 years, there was never a cross word. He was absolutely delightful to work with," Mr. Wise said. "I did the writing, and Milt did the thinking. And in recent years, we kind of changed places. He did more of the writing and I did a little thinking."

Other books by Dr. Cummings included The Patron State: Government and the Arts in Europe, North American and Japan and Who's to Pay for the Arts: The International Search for Models of Arts Support.

In addition to teaching, Dr. Cummings served as a consultant to NBC News from 1962 to 1976 as an election-night expert on congressional races.

Dr. Cummings was such a fixture on the Homewood campus that when he was forced by illness to miss a class in 1995, Cal Ripken Jr. dropped him a note.

"Someone told me the other day that you hadn't missed teaching a class at Johns Hopkins in 30 years. And they're calling me an Iron Man? I want to salute you for your remarkable teaching streak,' Mr. Ripken wrote in a 1995 letter.

"You and I seem to have something in common, a consistency in commitment, so I can sympathize with you about having to miss a class," he wrote.

"He really was a Mr. Chips in so many ways," Mr. Wise said.

A Washington resident, Dr. Cummings was an avid opera and classical musical buff. He also enjoyed attending the theater and traveling.

He was a member of the Cosmos Club in Washington.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

Also surviving are another son, Jonathan B. Cummings of New Vernon, N.J.; a daughter, Susan S. Cummings of London; and nine grandchildren. His marriage to the former Nancy Boucot ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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