Sumner was founder of one of southeast’s leading engineering firms

Billy Taylor Sumner, one of the founders of Barge Waggoner and Sumner, which later became Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon, Inc., now one of the southeast’s leading engineering and architectural firms, died Dec. 1. He was 86.

Billy Sumner
Billy Sumner


Sumner was a noted environmental engineer specializing in the design of water and wastewater treatment facilities.

He was a magna cum laude engineering graduate of Vanderbilt University, where he was a member of the honorary scholastic society Tau Delta and the Sigma Nu fraternity.  Sumner was a longtime member of the School of Engineering’s Lewis Society.

“Billy Sumner was a leader in engineering in Tennessee and his reach extended far beyond the headquarters of his company.  His dedication to engineering practice was exemplary and he was certainly a good friend of Vanderbilt,” said Kenneth F. Galloway, dean of the School of Engineering.

Sumner served in the United States Army during World War II in the China Burma India Theater and was later commissioned as an office in the United States Army Reserve, retiring as a major.

In 1955, with two former Vanderbilt classmates, he formed Barge Waggoner and Sumner, which later became Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon, Inc. He became president of the firm in 1985 and chairman in 1988. He served as chairman emeritus and senior consultant until his death.

He was active in professional organizations, serving as president of the American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC), trustee of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, chairman of the Professional Engineers in Private Practice division of the National Society of Professional Engineers, and numerous other leadership positions in professional societies.

Sumner’s community service included serving as president of Cheekwood Botanical Garden, a board member of Leadership Nashville, and a longtime member of the Oak Hill Planning Commission. He was an Elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Nashville and a lifelong Rotarian.

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Sue Williams Sumner, two daughters, and four grandchildren.