LaGuardia Arthur Summers was named after former New York Mayor Fiorello Henry La Guardia.

“He was very proud of his name,” said his wife, Verdena Jamison-Summers. Friends didn’t dare shorten it. It was always LaGuardia.

Mr. Summers’ grandmother was familiar with Mayor La Guardia because she left South Carolina for New York every summer to work as a house cleaner, and La Guardia was popular among Black New Yorkers. After a 1943 uprising against police brutality in Harlem, the mayor pledged more public housing and created a biracial committee on race relations.

Mr. Summers was born in Orangeburg, S.C. , in 1947, less than two months after his namesake died in September. An accountant in Philadelphia, he moved to Detroit in his 40s, and earned a master’s degree in education and became a teacher and principal.

Mr. Summers, 72, died Tuesday, May 26, from complications of COVID-19 at Ascension Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich.

He was the second of two children born to Blanche Stokes and Arthur Summers. At 11, after his parents’ divorce, Mr. Summers moved with family, including stepfather Saul Glover, to Philadelphia.

His stepfather, an electrician, and his mother, a Philadelphia schoolteacher, bought a house in West Oak Lane, and Mr. Summers attended Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School.

“He had a lot of friends, and he was Mr. Popular,” said his sister, Patricia Brockington. “He was the type to go start conversations with anyone. I was the shy one.”

For high school, the parents sent Mr. Summers to St. Emma’s Military Academy in Powhatan, Va., to avoid gang activity in Philadelphia.

After returning to Philadelphia to attend Peirce Junior College, Mr. Summers attended the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore for one year. He left to enlist in the Navy as the Vietnam War escalated. He served as a Navy SEAL and earned a National Defense Service Medal and a Vietnam Service Medal with a Bronze Star, his family said .

After his service, Mr. Summers worked while earning a degree in business from St. Joseph’s University. In 1990, Mr. Summers moved to Detroit and married his wife in 1991.

Mr. Summers sits in his office as principal at Academy of Oak Park School in Ferndale, Mich.
Courtesy the Summers family
Mr. Summers sits in his office as principal at Academy of Oak Park School in Ferndale, Mich.

Both their families were from Orangeburg, and their grandparents and parents had been good friends. They had first dated during the 1970s when he visited relatives in Detroit.

He had a positive outlook on life, his wife said.

“Everywhere he went, people called him ‘Simply Marvelous,’ " she said, “because when they asked how he was doing, he would say, ‘Simply marvelous.' "

Mr. Summers formed a brotherhood with other Black men he worked with in a mentoring program for teenage boys. On Friday nights, they gathered to watch old TV westerns, sessions they dubbed “Friday Night Cowboys.” Mr. Summers called the back of his house where they gathered “the West Wing.”

Mr. Summers and wife Verdena married when he moved from Philadelphia to Detroit.
Courtesy the Summers family
Mr. Summers and wife Verdena married when he moved from Philadelphia to Detroit.

In addition to his wife and sister, Mr. Summers is survived by a stepdaughter, Faelan Jamison, and other relatives. He was buried near Detroit on July 9.

Valerie Russ, vruss@inquirer.com