People in Your La Jolla Neighborhood: Meet community activist and retired banker Lou Cumming

Editor’s Note: La Jolla Light’s “People in Your Neighborhood” series shines a spotlight on notable locals. Light staff is out on the town talking to familiar, friendly faces to bring you their stories. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send the lead via e-mail to editor@lajollalight.com or call (858) 875-5950.

Lou Cumming, 78, lives in the southern part of La Jolla where the town adjoins Pacific Beach. He jokes that the Post Office says he lives in La Jolla, but the phone company considers him a citizen of PB. This 6-foot-2 retired banker has made significant contributions to many areas of San Diego life, including his involvement in passing a law restricting overnight parking of oversized vehicles and the resurgence of the San Diego Symphony.

Where are you from?

“You can’t tell from the way I comb my hair (laughs)? I’m from New York City, born and raised.”

When did you come to California?

“I came to San Diego with the Navy after I was commissioned as an officer in 1962. The Navy said, ‘Where would you like to be stationed?’ And I said, ‘I want to get as far away from NYC as I can and still be in continental U.S.’ So they sent me to San Diego.”

Please describe your upbringing.

“My mother was a widow. My dad was a fireman in New York City who died in the act of duty 18 months before retiring. So, I was really kind of the man of the family. But by the time I got my Navy commission, my brother, who was the next down from me, was ready to take on the duties as man of the house.”

Where did you live when you first got to San Diego?

“I arrived in San Diego on Aug. 31, 1962 and I reported to board ship the following day. In those days, as a Navy ensign, our monthly pay was $222. Today, that doesn’t sound like a lot, and even then it wasn’t a lot, and I wanted to save money to buy a car. I’m not a real party person, and a lot of the junior officers would get together and rent an apartment in Mission Beach or a place like that. So I lived aboard ship. The ship was my home.”

Are you married?

“In September 1963, I met my wife on a blind date. A friend of mine set us up, and after years of blind dates, one finally wasn’t so bad (laughs). We clicked the first night, and I invited her out two days later. I’ll never forget it. We hit it off, and 10 weeks later I proposed and she said, ‘Yes.’ We decided we would get married when my ship came back from a deployment.

Before a ship goes, they always have a Dependents Day Cruise where the ship sailors can bring their families aboard to give everyone an idea of what the father did. I asked the Captain if I could bring my fiancée on the Dependents Day Cruise. He looked at me and said, ‘Not only no, but hell no! I’m not turning my ship into a floating whorehouse’ (laughs). I told that to Glory (who became my wife), and she was mortified.

When we got back to port, I guess he must have said something to his wife, and a few days afterward, I got a call from the Captain inviting my fiancée and me to have Sunday brunch in his cabin with him and his wife. This was his way of trying to make up for being so harsh.

Two weeks after that, the ship left for deployment. We were due back by Thanksgiving of that year. Our wedding date was set for Jan. 2. My entire family was coming out.

In August 1964, we had the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which started the Vietnam War. We were supposed to be replaced by another carrier, which on its way over from California, blew two boilers. So they sent it to another base for repairs and we got extended at sea. The question was, ‘Am I going to be back for the wedding?’ We got back two days before Christmas!”

Please discuss your professional life

“I got out of the Navy in June 1965. My in-laws lived by Pomona, and my father-in-law kept telling me, ‘You’re not going to take my only daughter back to New York. Before I was in the Navy, I spent time working for Chase Bank in New York, so my intent was to go back to that. But I told my wife, ‘If I can get a banking job here in California, we’ll stay here. If not, we’re moving back to New York.’

I ended up in a training program for First National Bank, which today is Union Bank. I started to work for them and I began my banking career in San Diego. I worked for a number of banks.”

How did you come to live in La Jolla?

“We bought this house in June 1972.”

Do you have any kids?

“Yes, Glory (51), Christina (46), Lou (45) and David (42). The two girls and their spouses live in San Diego, one of our boys lives in Illinois and the other one in Florida.”

How many years have you been married?

“52 years. It only gets better with age. The longer you’re married, the better it gets, as long as you and your spouse respect each other.”

What do you do now that you’re retired?

“I’ve been quite active with the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and the Pacific Beach Town Council. In 2015, they elected me Honorary Mayor of Pacific Beach. I’m the only resident of La Jolla that’s been the Honorary mayor of Pacific Beach because I was very involved with getting the City of San Diego to prohibit overnight street parking for oversized vehicles.”

What did that mean to the community?

“An oversized vehicle is any vehicle that someone can live in. Those kinds of vehicles would park on the streets all through the beach areas — La Jolla, Ocean Beach, Point Loma. These neighborhoods all had visitors coming in their RVs. At night these people would pull into a residential street and park their RVs there overnight. A lot of them would empty their gray water and their black water on the curb. Some streets would be entirely taken up by these vehicles!

The change to the San Diego Municipal Code went into effect in 2015. It took me eight years!”

What do you do for fun?

“I do a little gardening, play with my grandchildren. I love reading and I read a lot of history.”

What are some of your routines?

“The first thing I do is ‘jumpstart’ my day by kissing my wife. I tell her that every day, ‘Jumpstart my day, honey!’ (laughs)”

What was your involvement with San Diego Symphony?

“Shortly after I got elected to the Symphony board of directors in 1981, they held a special meeting about their financial problems where they told us, ‘We have a payroll on Friday and we can’t make it.’ They had lost $500,000 over the summer.

There were four of us who took control of the organization. I was elected the next president of the Symphony. We had a tight-knit group working on its (survival), who cut the staff back and started tight financial controls. The Symphony owned a lot of people money. I put all the creditors in one room and I said, ‘You have three choices: 1) Write it off, and we’ll give you season tickets for the winter season; 2) Write half of it off and we’ll give you tickets to certain shows’; and the third option was if they wanted to be paid in full.

We were able to write off a whole bunch of debt. In summer 1983, we turned a profit of $2,500 — the first time the Symphony made money in the summertime. We got to have what’s Copley Symphony Hall because we bought that block when I was president. We set the stage for a lot of the success that the Symphony has today, and I’m very proud of that.”

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