Sumter deLeon Lowry: The Perfect Guardsman

What is a perfect National Guardsman? In the tradition of the Minuteman or Florida’s own Spanish Milicia, the perfect Guardsman must be a citizen engaged in the pursuits of a normal civilian life. He must also be a soldier, trained, equipped and willing to defend his nation from its enemies. He must be ready to assist the people of his state recover from the ravages of nature or chaos of civil unrest. He should be active in community affairs and have strong commitments to family and friends. All of his decisions and actions must be based on a profound understanding and acceptance of the virtues: duty, honor, country. In short, he must be like Sumter Lowry, Florida’s Perfect Guardsman.

Sumter Lowry was a Floridian, born in St. Augustine during a hurricane in 1893. The birth occurred in a civilian family house, but on property overlooking the Castillo San Marcos, then known as Fort Marion. This juxtaposition of the civilian and military was to be a major theme of Lowry’s life for most of the following 90 years.

Lowry attended grammar and high school in Tampa. He received his college education at the Virginia Military Institute. After graduation in 1914, he returned to Tampa and formed Company H, 2nd Florida Infantry. During the next two years he also began his business career and his family. As a citizen-soldier, Lowry needed a civilian profession. He became a businessman and was extremely successful. He owned several industrial enterprises, was a land developer in Florida and North Carolina, and he founded Liberty Life Assurance Company, now known as Gulf Life. All of his enterprises were successful and freed him from financial concerns for most of his life.

As a citizen of Florida and active member of his community, Lowry served on the boards of numerous civic service organizations, supported a number of private charities and contributed money, time and equipment to many public organizations. He was a dedicated family man, and not just to his immediate family. He was an enthusiastic supporter of all activities associated with the extended Lowry-Avery-Parkhill clans of Florida and South Carolina.

Lowry was also a soldier of his state. He was called out many times to help preserve civil order and assist those suffering from the effects of storms and floods. It was Lowry who, faced by a large and angry mob in 1917, lined up his few soldiers and told the crowd he’d shoot anyone who crossed the line. A voice in the back of the crowd said he knew Lowry and guessed he’d do what he said. The crowd went home. It was Lowry, when another riotous and violent crowd set up a machine gun to use against the police and soldiers guarding a prisoner, responded by setting up a machine gun of his own. When the mob leaders directed fire at Lowry’s men, he had them fire back. The riot ended a short time later with Lowry’s men in control.

But a Guardsman does not only serve his private interests and those of his state. A guardsman may be called to serve his nation. Lowry was called to national service on three occasions. He served with the 2nd Florida on the Mexican Border in 1916-1917, and with the 1st Division during the First Wold War. He was commander of the 56th Artillery Brigade, 31st Division, during the Second World War and served with them in the New Guinea campaign against the Japanese. A grateful government awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal for his service in the South Pacific.

Following the Second World War, Sumter Lowry commanded the 51st Division, National Guard. He retired to civilian life in 1952, a Lieutenant General in the Florida National Guard. For the next 30 years, until his death at age 91 in 1985, he continued active in business, community affairs and politics. He remained interested in the Florida guard and established the Lowry Award, given annually to a Florida Guardsman who best demonstrates those virtues of patriotism, leadership and service to community, state and nation both as a soldier and as a civilian. In effect, it’s an award for those who most reflect the life and character of Florida’s Perfect Guardsman, Sumter deLeon Lowry.