Obituary: Lee Sumner Cushman

Wed, 03/21/2012 - 3:55pm

Lee Sumner Cushman, of Darien and Block Island, died on Tuesday, March 13, of pancreatic cancer.

Lee was born in Boston, Mass., on June 24, 1938, daughter of the late Thurston Bradford Sumner and Jessica White Pirie. She was raised in Milford, Conn., with her three late brothers, Richard Bradford Sumner, William White Sumner and Thurston Bradford Sumner Jr.

Lee went to Smith College and was a member of the class of 1960. For many years she chaired the prestigious used-book sale in New Canaan, Conn., to raise money for Smith. She completed her studies at Yale University, earning a bachelors degree in architectural history.

Lee was married to Robert Edgar Cushman for 37 years. She and Bob raised their three children, Bert, Brad and Jessica, while living in distant lands, spending years in Geneva, Switzerland, Brussels, Belgium, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil before returning to Darien, Conn.

Along the way, Lee made numerous friends with whom she shared ski weekends, camping trips and adventurous tours in the many countries they visited. The list of those with whom she exchanged Christmas cards was vast. She had many passions and talents and there was no challenge she wasn’t willing to take on. Always surrounded by her beloved golden retrievers, she split her latter decades between Block Island, Darien and Brownsville, Vt. She shared much of this time with her close friend and companion, Peter Wood, with whom she sailed, traveled and worked on numerous projects.

On Block Island Lee built two homes. One was a round house on a family compound near the geodesic domes, the other a deep-porched beach house just south of Mansion Beach, whose lines she adapted following the island’s Victorian tradition. Lee was particularly proud of rescuing one of the island’s earliest summer “cottages,” the so-called Faile House off South East Road. Typical of her energy were the months she spent re-puttying dozens of the windows in the old structure.

The family has spent summers on the island since the 1960s, with her children learning to sail here and taking the usual round of summer jobs. The island became the site of two out of three of Lee’s children’s weddings. In recent years Lee sang in the ecumenical choir and was a member of the Tuesday Bridge Group.

Lee is survived by her three children, Robert Sumner, Bradford White and Jessica Ranney; her seven grandchildren, Camille Hoyle, Sumner James Hoyle, Claire Marie, Alexis Rae, Jack Bradford, Blake Thomas and Tessa Elizabeth Sumner Shulz; and numerous cousins, nephews and nieces, all of whom will miss her dearly.

A service celebrating Lee’s life was held on Saturday, March 17, at the Smith & Sefcik Funeral Home in Milford, Conn. For the computer literate, the following link will access the eulogies delivered by her children at the service:

The family will be gathering on Block Island the first week in August and is planning a celebration of Lee’s life at that time. In lieu of flowers, donations in Lee’s name may be made to the Block Island Conservancy online at or to P.O. Box 84, Block Island, RI 02807.