Sine Die marks the concluding hanky drop for retiring Sergeant at Arms

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Today’s Sine Die, marking the end of the 2013 legislative session, also commemorates the retirement of House of Representatives Sergeant at Arms Earnest “Earnie” Sumner, who began his career in the House in 1971 and served for a sum of 138 legislative sessions.

Sumner was honored for his service with a House committee room minted in his name, and with HR 9145, in which he was praised for maintaining order within the Chamber, galleries, lobby and passages of the House; for diligently overseeing the security of Members while engaged in their constitutional duties; and for his longstanding relationships with state and local law enforcement, and his consistent promotion of good will.

To the public, and to those who do business within the halls of the Capitol, Sumner may be best known for his performance of the hanky drop each sine die since 1998, when he was appointed Sergeant by Speaker Daniel Webster.

“In a bicameral system it is proper parliamentary procedure for both chambers to adjourn sine die at exactly the same time,” writes Victor Lam, “To adjourn simultaneously, both chambers must know when the gavel comes down to end a session and to do this at the same time.”

In decades past, prior to other technological means to coordination, the Sergeant at Arms of the House and Senate would walk to the middle point in the halls between chambers holding a handkerchief.  Once they meet, hankies are dropped, signaling the end of legislative session.  This tradition has continued, with Sumner serving as one face of this custom for 15 years.  Sumner, and Florida Senate and House Sergeants of past were featured Thursday in a photo history of sine dies, seen here.

Sumner has been recognized with numerous service awards, including the National Conference of State Legislatures Staff Achievement Award, the John Everhardt “Trooper” Award, and the Tony Beard Memorial Award.  He is active in his community, through service in Scout organizations, Big Bend Hospice, the Liberty County Farm Bureau, and others; is a lay leader at Grace United Methodist; and along with his gospel band, Fortress, performs at prisons, churches, and other events. Music brought Sumner and his high school sweetheart, Janice Stokes, together — they performed together in their band, Purple Passion, and today have four daughters and seven grandchildren.