The PAI Board and staff wish to express our sincerest condolences to the family and Baltimore constituents of Congressman Elijah Cummings, whose support for international family planning and reproductive health programs we could always rely upon. His untimely passing comes at an especially perilous time in our nation’s history—and for the continued expansion of sexual and reproductive health and rights, both at home and abroad.
Much will be written and said in the coming days about his exemplary career in public service, first in the Maryland state legislature and as a leader in the U.S. House of Representatives as Chairman of the powerful Oversight and Government Reform Committee up until his death. But maybe one small contribution to the record of his life that PAI can offer is a brief personal glimpse at how he carried himself throughout his 68 years.
PAI enjoyed a long association with Mr. Cummings dating back to the beginning of his tenure in Congress. In November 1997, PAI and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs, headquartered in his congressional district, had the privilege to jointly sponsor a study tour for Congressman Cummings to visit family planning and maternal health clinics in Zambia and Ghana. By all accounts, Mr. Cummings and his staff found it to be a moving educational experience, relatable to many of the health issues facing the residents of Baltimore, most notably unintended and teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS.
However, a former PAI staffer Julia Altrocchi Slatcher, who accompanied the Congressman on the 1997 trip, recounted this morning on social media, “the trip did not go off without a hitch, let’s say, but Congressman Cummings was a great sport and kind throughout.” Her characterization amusingly understates what a logistical nightmare the study tour became. The delegation’s flight from South Africa to Cote d’Ivoire was several hours late, and the group missed their connecting flight to Ghana. The group ended up having to drive 11 hours across the countryside from Abidjan to Accra, overnighting near the border in spartan accommodations. Mr. Cummings never complained and was understanding and patient despite the exhausting travel difficulties that the delegation encountered—which he drolly recounted when PAI and Johns Hopkins staff later visited him in his Baltimore district office to debrief. Just an inconsequential vignette, but perhaps telling about the type of person he was.
PAI and the nation will greatly miss the moral authority that Congressman Cummings brought to public service going forward, but we celebrate the contributions of this true gentleman in seeking justice and the uplifting of all people during his all-too-brief lifetime.