Obituary: James V. Cunningham Sr. / Longtime Pitt professor devoted to social issues

Jan. 22, 1923 - March 28, 2014

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Jim Cunningham, with his wife, Rita, raised 10 children. But his involvements may have outnumbered his large family.

"He was extremely active," said Morton "Moe" Coleman, professor emeritus and founding director of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics.

He approached everything with "such a high level of integrity and caring," said Mr. Coleman, who called Mr. Cunningham his "cherished friend" and colleague.

A longtime professor at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work, Mr. Cunningham spent his career working on neighborhood development, community organizing and social justice issues.

He helped form the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Alliance, published four books on urban neighborhood developments, cofounded the Race and Reconciliation Dialogue group at St. Paul Cathedral parish in Oakland and volunteered with the Living Wage Campaign.

For more than a decade, he served as the Democratic Party ward chairman for Pittsburgh's 7th Ward, and in 1971, he made an unsuccessful run for city council. A few years later, he was the executive director of the City of Pittsburgh Home Rule Government Study Commission.

"He has accomplished so much in a lifetime," Mr. Coleman said.

Mr. Cunningham, who spent most of his time in Pittsburgh living in Shadyside and then Oakland but had lived in Richland for the past two years, died Friday. He was 91.

He was "a very good man, a humble man," said Dorothy Miller, one of the co-founders of the Race and Reconciliation group, who called Mr. Cunningham "its soul."

"His whole heart was in the work."

James V. Cunningham Sr. was born Jan. 22, 1923, in Chicago, to James and Margaret Cunningham. He went to the University of Notre Dame for his undergraduate education, then joined the Navy as a supply and payroll officer during World War II. He was aboard the USS Perkins when it entered Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, as Japan surrendered.

He later earned a graduate degree from Notre Dame and then a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh.

Eight of his children were born in Chicago, where Mr. Cunningham was executive director of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, a neighborhood group for what was then a rundown part of Chicago, said his oldest son, Jim of Dormont.

The family moved to Pittsburgh's Shadyside neighborhood in 1959. Mr. Cunningham took a job with ACTION-Housing Inc. and continued his work on neighborhood initiatives.

He supported equal rights and in the 1960s, he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama. A faithful Catholic, he attended Mass daily. His wife died in 2010.

In addition to his son, Mr. Cunningham is survived by two daughters, Anne Moore, of Brewster, Mass., and Mary Gilman, of South Deerfield, Mass., and seven other sons, Mark of Greensburg, Harry of Concord, N.H., Steve of Oakland, David of Baldwin, Paul of Richland, Patrick of Bethel Park and John of Amherst, Mass., as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

His oldest son said he will remember his father as man who set a good example by the way he lived his life and as "somebody that never got upset, even though he had 10 kids that were always causing trouble."

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. today and from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at John A. Freyvogel and Sons Funeral Home, 4900 Centre Ave., Shadyside. Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Wednesday in St. Paul Cathedral, Oakland.


Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.

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