In Memoriam: Reuben Summerlin, PFIP Programme Manager

It is with great sadness this week that UNCDF mourned the passing of our friend and colleague Reuben Summerlin, UNCDF’s Advisor in the Pacific region and the Programme manager of the UNDP/UNCDF Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP).

Reuben was an extraordinary man who represented for many of us the ideals of passion, commitment, professionalism and honesty.

Everyone who has had the great good fortune to meet Reuben has known him for his great intelligence and professionalism, gentleness, and charm, noted Judith Karl, Executive Secretary of UNCDF.

Reuben joined UNCDF in 2012 to manage PFIP. During this time he expanded PFIP’s activities in both scale and scope, overseeing the fastest expansion of financial services the region has ever seen. He was at the forefront of working with the regionals central bank governors and deeply committed to expanding financial education in schools in the Pacific.

Reuben has been remembered and commemorated in Fiji this week, by the Fiji Press and the entire United Nations Team. Gillian Bird, the Australian Ambassador to the United Nations personally sent her condolences noting that “Mr. Summerlin was well known and highly regarded by Australian staff the Pacific and Canberra. He was a dedicated and passionate advocate for financial inclusion, particularly in the Pacific Islands, and helped further strengthen the partnership between Australia and UNCDF in the region.”

A native of Tennessee, Reuben began his international career as a Peace Corp volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, learning to speak the language fluently, and stayed in Kyrgyzstan as an employee and eventually Financial Services Manager of FINCA International in the Kyrgyz Republic. He served as FINCA’s country manager in Haiti before becoming a founding partner in a microfinance consulting firm, Alternative Credit Technologies. During that time Reuben was an often-published expert who also took a keen interest in social performance of microfinance institutions. He was an avid linguist, acquiring six languages and often joked his most useful skill was his ability to translate Haitian Creole into Kyrgyz. Reuben was an adventurous spirit whose exploits ranges from diving with sharks to skiing. At the time of his death, he was completing a stage of biking 475 kilometers around Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, a challenge he enjoyed tremendously.

Henri Dommel, Director of Inclusive Finance lauded Reuben for both his work and how he pursued it. “For those of us who had the pleasure to work with him, he displayed in his work a remarkable combination of great intelligence, great collegiality and a good sense of humour around issues. There was also a humility in his character, combined with an eagerness to engage with and help colleagues, which gave Reuben this distinctive US “Southern gentleman” character.

Several commemorative events have been held in Fiji in the past week, including from the United Nations and other organizations. The many articles in the local press attest to the positive impact he had through his work and life. Reuben is survived by his wife and two children, his parents and three brothers.

Reuben will be sorely and dearly missed.