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
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