Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Memorial Service - Ann Sumner

Memorial Service – Anna Emily Sumner
(b. 1904, d. February 9, 2008)

Romans 8:14-19,34-35,37-39; Psalm 23; John 14:1-6
Tuesday, February 12, 2008 – St. Alban’s Westwood

Hail to the hills of Westwood,
To the mighty sea below;
Hail to our Alma Mater,
She will conquer every foe.

For we’re loyal to the Southland,
Her honor we’ll uphold;
We’ll gladly give our hearts to thee,
To the Blue and to the Gold.

Many of you will recognize these words to “Hail to the Hills of Westwood,” the official alma mater of UCLA. This song, dear to the hearts of countless UCLA alumni, speaks of the love for this outstanding institution, and epitomizes the Bruin spirit of excellence, loyalty, and honor.

Today we gather to honor and remember a remarkable woman, one who could truly be characterized as an icon. Like “Hail to the Hills of Westwood,” Ann Sumner, epitomized the spirit of what it means to be a Bruin – devoted to excellence, ever loyal to the honor of UCLA. But Ann Sumner was not just any ordinary UCLA alum. In her very being, Ann Sumner was UCLA.

Ann’s illustrious tenure at UCLA began even before there was a UCLA. She attended classes and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from the Southern Branch of the University of California in 1926. At that time, the Southern Branch, located on Vermont Avenue near downtown Los Angeles, was little more than an extension of the University of California’s main campus in Berkeley, and had only recently achieved status as a four-year university. The year after her graduation, construction began on the then new UCLA campus, what would become the campus we know today. The expansion of the university and construction of the new campus was due to the tireless work of Edward Dickson, one of the Regents of the University of California, who is fondly referred to as the “godfather of UCLA.” Ann would later note that she became like a daughter to Dickson and his wife. She certainly shared his dream of what UCLA could become.

After graduation, Ann worked for several years as the editor of the women’s page of the Los Angeles Evening Express newspaper. In 1932, Dr. Ernest Moore, UCLA provost, convinced Ann to leave the Evening Express and to take a job at the new campus, working for the UCLA News Bureau. One of her main jobs was to write radio speeches for Dr. Moore. She quickly became the chief publicist for the UCLA Extension, a position she held until her retirement in 1967. In that role, she was responsible for making UCLA’s presence in Los Angeles known. At the time that she started, people didn’t know anything about the new university, often mistaking it for the only other university in the southern part of the state – the University of Southern California. But all that would change, thanks to Ann’s tireless efforts.

For Ann, promotion of UCLA was not just a job. It was a passion – one that extended far beyond writing speeches and issuing press releases. She was committed to establishing and working on a number of service organizations that would benefit the lives of members of the UCLA community and help to make UCLA into the world-class institution that it is today:

She was a founding member of the Gold Shield, a component of the UCLA Alumni Association and women’s counterpart of the all-male Blue Shield. The Gold Shield was, and continues to be a hospitality and service organization that, among other things, provides scholarships to women attending UCLA.

She was a founding board member of the UCLA Affiliates.

She was a founding member of the Friends of the UCLA Library.

She was a founding member of the UCLA Arts Council.

She was a founding member of the board of directors of the UCLA Faculty Center.

She established the Ann E. Sumner Endowed Collection in Art History.

In addition to these achievements, she served in leadership roles of such organizations as the UCLA Alumni Association, the Los Angeles City Panhellenic Council, the UCLA Faculty Women’s Club, and the UCLA Chancellor’s Associates.

It is obvious from the list of her achievements that Ann was not only a leader, but also a trailblazer. In an era when women were second-class citizens with little influence, when it was still very much a man’s world, she had the courage and the fortitude to overcome social prejudices and make a difference – a huge difference. She had a vision for UCLA and worked to make that vision a reality. Edward Dickson may have been the “godfather of UCLA.” But Ann Sumner was most certainly its godmother. And, because of her tireless and passionate devotion to UCLA, in 1962 she became the first woman to receive the UCLA Alumni Distinguished Service Award.

Throughout all of this work, she remained very much a lady – graceful, dignified, elegant yet modest, incredibly generous, and always a good friend.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us that “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” There is a place for everybody, no matter who they are. This was also Ann’s vision for UCLA. She felt that UCLA was a place for everybody, and that everybody had a place at this great institution. To help achieve this vision, she worked to provide scholarships so that as many people as possible, particularly young women, would have a place at UCLA. She worked to build an infrastructure that would make UCLA a place where people would want to be, to provide a university that would meet the needs of all who came. In doing this, Ann exemplified the spirit of hospitality that is portrayed in the Gospel. Ann lived the Gospel mandate of radical inclusivity.

Jesus tells us that he has gone ahead, following his own death and resurrection, to prepare a place for us in God’s house. This is a promise made to all of us – that when our time comes, we will be lovingly welcomed into God’s home. Based on what I have learned of Ann’s life, I have no doubt whatsoever that she has been taken into the Father’s house, into God’s home, where she has been given a special place there, just as she made a special place for all those who came to UCLA, her home.

With the passing of Ann Sumner, we have sadly witnessed the end of an era in UCLA history. But while she may no longer be here physically, we can be assured that she will live on. Her legacy will remain with us, in the form of what she helped build right across the street. And she lives on in us: in the memories of those who knew her; in the betterment of the countless lives who have benefited from her vision and been nurtured by her tireless work; in the inspiration she provides to those of us who have a special place in our hearts for UCLA, the great institution that Ann Sumner helped to build.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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