Florida House Says Farewell To Soon-To-Be Retired Sergeant At Arms Ernie Sumner

May 10, 2013

Florida’s 2013 Legislative Session is now over, and that means lawmakers have left Tallahassee and won’t be back until next year. But, one person who won’t be back for another session is the Florida House’s Sergeant of Arms, Ernie Sumner, who’s been a permanent fixture at the Capitol for decades.

"Ernie, Ernie, Ernie....," chanted the crowd who surrounded House Sergeant at Arms Ernie Sumner and Senate Sergeant at Arms Donald Severance on the last day of the 2013 Florida Legislative Session.

Shouts of “Ernie” rang through the Florida Capitol corridor after Sumner dropped the Sine Die Hanky for the last time to mark the end of the 2013 session.

Sumner is set to retire next month, and the Florida House lawmakers honored the Sergeant at Arms during the last few days of the session. House Speaker Will Weatherford says he feels it’s one of the most important things lawmakers did during this Session.

“I can’t sit here and articulate this man’s career or what he’s done for this chamber. I can tell you on a personal level, he’s a very close friend. He’s a person who has one of the kindest hearts you’ll ever meet. He has served here for four decades. His career began before the Old Capitol was designated historic," joked Weatherford, as lawmakers laughed. 

"It's true and he’s continued his service and he’s served 22 Speakers of the House."

In 1998, former House Speaker Daniel Webster appointed Sumner as his chamber’s Sergeant at Arms. It’s a job with many duties, which includes maintaining order under the direction of the Speaker.  And, according to a House resolution honoring Sumner, the 61-year-old has served the Florida House for 138 legislative sessions since 1971.

Some lawmakers, like Republican Representative Marti Coley, shared personal stories. She recalled his help when her husband, former State Representative David Coley, passed away in 2005.

“He has meant a lot to me and my family. When my late husband was brought to the Capitol to lay in state, I can’t tell you how much he meant that day. He spoke and he just created a climate of calm and dignity to the day. And, I greatly appreciate that and love you very much for it. His strength and calm demeanor give peace in time of trouble whether it’s a personal crisis, or whether, Ernie, it’s even reading the bills in full until the wee hours of the morning,” said Coley as she laughed.

Coley also told a bit about Sumner’s past.

“He was in a Rock-and-roll band called Purple Passion in the late 1960 where he played the organ. The Purple Passion actually won a Battle of the Bands in Atlanta, and signed a contract. They went to a Battle of the Bands in Orlando, which then placed third. So, he is, indeed, a man of many talents,” said Coley.

And, Democratic Representative Alan Williams also added some of his favorite memories of the Sergeant.

“One of my prized legislative possessions that I have in this process is not the bills that I sometimes get to pass, but it’s my back-up hanky that you gave me on my first Legislative Session. I promise you I’ll hold onto this and share this with my grandkids, share with them our bond and our connection and what you’ve done not only for me, but for all the members of this session and this House, sessions before and Speakers before,” said Williams.

But, the honors did not stop there. The Florida House also prepared a slide show about Sumner’s time serving the chamber, complete with a voice-over from WFLA's Preston Scott.

“On the 8th day, God looked down on the Florida House of Representatives and said I need someone to take care of the place. So, God made a Sergeant."

"God said I need somebody to get up before dawn and make sure the coffee is ready and work all day to set up committee rooms and make sure everyone has a good parking spot and watch over every picture that needs to be hung. Then, escort the really important dignitaries into the chamber. So, God made a Sergeant."

"Someone who will work 60-plus hours a week from March to May, then walk out to the Rotunda, and drop a hanky to end it all. So, God made a Sergeant.”

And, as a tearful Sumner looked on, Weatherford ended the tribute to bestow Sumner with one last honor.

“I’m proud to announce to you that to honor Sergeant Sumner’s lifetime commitment to this House, Room 404, of the House Office Building will henceforth be called ‘Sumner Hall,'” said Weatherford.

A spokesman for the Florida House says Sumner’s leaving because he wants to spend more time with his family after serving the House for 42 years. Sumner has a wife, four daughters, and seven grandchildren. His last day is June 28th.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.