Thomas L. Cummings Jr., the founder and longtime CEO of Nashville-based sign company Cummings Inc., died today after an extended illness. He was 89 years of age.
Cummings had the deepest possible roots in Nashville. He was a descendant of Robert Cartwright, one of the pioneers who accompanied James Robertson on the 1779 expedition to settle the Nashville area. And his father, Thomas L. Cummings Sr., served as mayor of the city from 1938 to 1951.
The junior Cummings started his company with $9,500 in borrowed money a month after the Army discharged him in 1946, following decorated combat service in the Pacific during the Second World War. His ambition was to replace the local sign makers found in most American cities with an operation that would have national reach.
By 1952, the company took a major step toward achieving that goal when Memphis hotelier Kemmons Wilson tapped it to design and build the first signs for his fledgling Holiday Inn chain. The distinctive green and gold marquee, with its blinking arrow, became a roadside fixture known to the entire country.
Cummings Signs went on to develop relationships with such major national enterprises as car-makers Ford and Chrysler, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Captain D's, Chevron and Bank of America. In 1967, the company floated an initial public offering. It would remain publicly traded until a group led by Tom Cummings repurchased its stock in 1983.
Cummings retired from his company in 1999, as Nashville entrepreneur Steve Lynn purchased Cummings Inc.
Surviving Cummings are daughters Tammy Cummings Haggard and Tina Cummings Huggins, sons Thomas L. Cummings III and Timothy James Cummings, eight grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren. His wife, Ann James Cummings, passed away in 2005 after 57 years of marriage.
Visitation will be held at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 33 Burton Hills Blvd., on Thursday, Jan. 29 from 4 to 7 p.m. On Friday, Jan. 30, family will receive friends at 10 a.m., with a service to follow at 11 and burial immediately afterward at Woodlawn Memorial Park.