Longtime Phenix City Councilman Arthur L. Sumbry Sr. died Sunday evening at his southside home following a brief illness.
Sumbry, 73, was under Hospice care at the time of his death.
In a town with a history of colorful politicians, Sumbry was one of the most colorful.
He served eight discontinuous terms since 1980 and twice pleaded guilty to crimes that at times put a cloud over his political service.
Despite the issues, Sumbry’s son, Phenix City Coroner Arthur Sumbry Jr., said his father loved his hometown.
“He really did love Phenix City and he would help anyone who needed his help,” Sumbry said.
Phenix City will fly flag at half-staff to recognize Sumbry's service to the city. He was the city's mayor pro-tem from 2008-2012.
Phenix City City Manager Wallace Hunter worked with Sumbry throughout his more than three decades in city government. Hunter said Sumbry was a politician who spanned different eras in Phenix City politics.
“He tried to help everybody, and if he had a problem, he tired to help everybody no matter what,” Hunter said. “And if he did any harm, he only harmed himself. He never tired to hurt other people.”
Political ally Jimmy Wetzel, who served with Sumbry on council, once described him this way: “Mr. Sumbry has pretty much always been a person that decides on his own what he’s going to do and very rarely tells anybody else.”
That analysis came two years ago when Sumbry, under indictment for forgery and other charges, was seeking re-election. About a week before the election, Sumbry abruptly withdrew and threw his support behind his son, Arttie Pontez Sumbry, who was also on the ballot as “A. Sumbry.” Arttie Sumbry lost the election to Arthur Day.
In October 2013, Sumbry Sr.’s legal issue came to a head.
He had once vowed he would never plead guilty to charges against him in exchange for a lighter penalty, but he did just that Oct. 8. He pleaded guilty to forgery in exchange for a sentence of probation, restitution and a promise never to seek public office again.
The 72-year-old also agreed never again to serve as a notary public as he told Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob A. Walker III he was guilty of helping Ella Mae Sanders forge a deed. The deed would have transferred the home of 94-year-old Ambros Adams Sr. to Sanders’ son Elliott S. McCray, who had served as Adams’ caretaker.
That was not Sumbry’s first brush with the law.
He was convicted in 1980 of unlawful voter registration and sentenced to two years probation on charges he illegally helped people register to vote the first time he ran for office.
Later he was convicted of first-degree perjury, and also pleaded guilty to another felony: unlawful registration charge. He was pardoned for those convictions in 1982, though later he had to leave office as his eligibility to hold a public office was challenged.
Sumbry also had issues with his Phenix City funeral home.
In June 2011, Russell County authorities seized Sumbry Mortuary, giving possession of the property to Synovus Financial Corp.
The move ended a stalemate between Sumbry and Columbus-based Bank, which had a mortgage on the South Seale Road property dating back to May 1996, according to filings with the Russell County Circuit Court.
Former Mayor Sammy Howard served with Sumbry during part of the that time.
“You know, I never had a problem with Arthur,” Howard said. “I was looking back at it, and he probably voted with me 99 percent of the time. He had his problems, there is no question about that. But I can only judge him politically on the three years I worked with him. And there were no problems.”
Funeral arrangements have not been completed, Arthur Sumbry Jr. said.
Sumbry is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Jessie; three children Sabrina Sumbry, Arthur Sumbry Jr. and Arttie Pontez Sumbry, all of Phenix City; six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.