In Loving Memory of

Hugh Wilson Cunningham, Jr.


Hugh Wilson Cunningham, Jr., beloved patriarch, friend and mentor to many departed this life peacefully with family by his side on Friday, February 27, 2015. He was born on September 11, 1921 in Eliasville, Texas.

Hugh completed a bachelor degree from Trinity University in Texas (1942) concurrent with working as an editor at the Waxahachie Daily Life newspaper, followed by WWII in which he completed training at the US Naval Academy and served as communication officer aboard a US Navy destroyer escort in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. After the war he obtained a masters degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. He then joined the faculty and was head of public relations at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas until 1953 when he became editor of the Bryan Daily Eagle in Texas.

In 1955, he was recruited by Rae Weimer to join the budding School of Journalism at the University of Florida, where Weimer’s goal was to build the College through experience by hiring practicing journalists. As a professor at the University Hugh led unique programs providing practical and hands-on experience for UF Journalism students at the Gainesville Sun and St. Petersburg Times, and graduates he mentored became recognized journalists. During part of his 35 years at UF he served as Director of Communications. On his 80th birthday, the University of Florida established the Hugh W. Cunningham Professorship of Journalism Excellence with contributions from former students and others.

Hugh was a man of firm faith. He was on the organizing committee of the Presbyterian Church in America, co-founder with Pierre Vidal of Faith Presbyterian Church in Gainesville, and later an elder at Community Presbyterian Church in McIntosh. Hugh “filled the pulpit” at various area churches on an as-needed basis including 5 years at Mikesville Presbyterian Church.

Hugh was a tireless man who dedicated himself to family, church, journalism, and adventurous travels. He will be remembered by those who knew him as a great teacher and enthusiast for just about any topic of conversation.

Hugh is predeceased by his wife of 57 years Eleanor Hendrix Cunningham, daughter Kay Puder and grandson Casey Puder of Gainesville, as well as by his brother William A. Cunningham of Granbury Texas. He is survived by sons Rob ( and Amy) and Chuck (and Aries); by granddaughters Allison (Amador), Wendy, and Alyx; by three great-granddaughters; and by Nicole Haynes, loving caregiver to him, his wife and their daughter for the past 8 years.

A memorial service will be held at Faith Presbyterian Church (5916 NW 39th Avenue Gainesville, FL 32606) on Thursday, March 5, 2015 at 4:00 PM . In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Community Presbyterian Church (20098 North US Highway 441 P.O. Box 616 McIntosh, FL 32664) or to Faith Presbyterian Church. Interment will occur a day prior to the memorial service and will be private to family. Arrangements are in the care of Forest Meadows Funeral Home.

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25 Responses

  1. Wit Tuttell at · Reply

    I wrote this for Hugh’s 8oth birthday celebration in 2001. His kind and thoughtful influence on me cannot be measured by words.

    Hugh Cunningham taught me so much about journalism, but more importantly he gave me lessons on life. How else would a small-town Florida boy who had never seen snow wind up collecting whale vertebrae on the edge of the ice pack on the Arctic Ocean.

    He taught me that without experiencing the world around us, you cannot have the true perspective required to be a journalist.

    Hugh is the consummate journalist and teacher, but in his heart he is an adventurer. His zest for new experiences is surpassed only by his devotion to his family.

    I’ll never forget when we drove to the canyon on the outskirts of the abandoned Alaska mining towns of McCarthy and Kennicott. The road ended in a gravel parking lot with the sudden dropoff separating our party from the remains of the cities. At the far end of the lot sat a small basket with a green wire attached to it and strung across the canyon. Without an airplane, it was the only way to get to the ghost towns.

    While I was looking around the landing for an inspection certificate and operating instructions, Hugh climbed in and started pulling himself across the lengthy divide. He wanted to get across first so he could get photos of the rest of the group coming across the gap.

    It wasn’t the first time I was amazed by Hugh. And I’m sure it won’t be the last. From the moment I arrived in Alaska until the moment he left, Hugh worked longer, harder and faster than anyone else to revive that dying publication. It wasn’t about ego or politics or money, it was a challenge — an adventure in newspapering.

    It was the greatest adventure of my life, brought to me by the greatest teacher in my life, and I will cherish it for the rest of my life.

  2. Jeff Houck at · Reply

    I guessed I impressed Hugh as a student in his applied journalism class. Not only had he helped get me an internship at the Pensacola News Journal, he called editors at every major newspaper in Florida to arrange interviews. He told them I reminded him of a young Dan Rather. So when he offered to take me on and teach me one-on-one for a three-credit tutelage, I thought I had it made. Especially when we never met to discuss class work or studies. Imagine! A no-show class with The Master! Every student’s dream! That semester, I walked for my diploma, proudly festooned in cap and gown. I arrogantly took a selfie with the university president before there was a name for such things, and left for my internship. A week later, I opened my mail to read a letter from the university informing me that I was 3 credits shy of graduation. Hugh had given me an F. I didn’t get stories assigned to me because I hadn’t been aggressive enough to structure my study with him. He flunked me for all the right reasons. I finished my degree using the internship he helped me get and I confessed the escapade to my parents and girlfriend Grace after I got the diploma in the mail. Six months later, Hugh called to offer a job as a columnist in Anchorage covering people my age two days after Grace and I got engaged. Nervous about being so far away from home – I had never been any farther west than Pensacola and had never seen a snowfall – we took a leap of faith and jumped at the opportunity. It was the greatest adventure of our lives. Everything since then has been framed and accelerated by that decision. For that, Grace and I are forever thankful and warmed by the memory of our dear friend and teacher.

  3. Rod Culbertson at · Reply

    Hugh was a leader and a man of faith, courage and conviction. I learned a lot from him, particularly about church life and ministry, during my years serving RUF in Gainesville in the 1980’s. My consolation is extended to the Cunningham family during this time of grief. May you know the Lord’s presence and comfort in the coming days.

  4. George Waas at · Reply

    I read with sadness of the passing of a truly great teacher. Although 50 years has passed since I was one of his students, he was most influential in my professional life both as a newspaper reporter and lawyer. He was an unforgettable teacher whose passion and drive were infectious. I never forgot him, and I will never forget him. He was a teacher’s teacher and journalist’s journalist.

  5. Michael Abrams at · Reply

    My deep sympathies to the family of Hugh Cunningham. May you find comfort in your grief. My years as a journalist and more than 30 years as a professor of journalism were greatly inspired by Hugh Cunningham who was a great teacher who didn’t pull any punches. He taught us to “get the facts to the folks” and his lectures were memorable, especially when his voice reached that high pitch of enthusiasm. It was much later in life that I appreciated him more, and when I actually became a journalism professor, it may have been partially to repay him and Prof. Buddy Davis for my numerous trespasses as a child of the radical 60s. We talked much later in life and all those fences were repaired as if they had not existed. I owe so much to Hugh Cunningham.

  6. Lee-Anne Oros, Ed. D. at · Reply

    I was fortunate to have him as my professor at the University of Florida. I remember him fondly.
    May his family find comfort in knowing he was loved by many and respected by all.

  7. Chris Ferree JM 1970 at · Reply

    I was a news editorial student at UF from 1964 to 1970, with two years off in the middle to do my time with the Navy during the Vietnam War. The names in the obituary were familiar to me as they were the ones giving me my grades and whom I admired as mentors toward my future career. Hugh Cunningham was among the tops, along with Buddy Davis and Don Grooms and others. My strong support of the freedom of speech and free press were inspired by these great men and Professor Cunningham was there at the top. Many great memories flow through my thoughts as I share my thoughts and prayers for all his family and friends at this time. I really feel that the person I am today and my integrity were inspired by my great professors in the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

  8. Carol Conyne Rescigno at · Reply

    He was “Mr. Cunningham” when I met him in his applied journalism class in 1971. We were a group of nine, and I was terrified because I felt he would find extra fault with this little girl trying to become a reporter. I could not have been more mistaken. Hugh was tough, but always fair. His enthusiasm for his craft and his students was unmatched, and I went from someone who wanted to be a writer to someone who wanted to do good journalism. A year later he picked up his phone and called around, securing my first job in Sarasota. Many years later, I called him from my home in New York when he was honored with a UF professorship. He remembered me well and wanted to know all about my “newspapering” up there. He said he was enjoying retirement and spoke of his church and family. Hugh cleared pathways for me and so many others. My condolences to his family and friends in Gainesville on the loss of this very special man.

  9. Rick DuPuis at · Reply

    It was 50 years ago this January I first met Prof Cunningham. I was transferring from a college in Canada to the U of F. I always remembered how fortunate I was to have him be the first guidance/advisor I met, and that was even before walking into his classroom. Condolences to his family.

  10. Alissa Algarin, MBA at · Reply

    I was blessed to have Hugh Cunningham as a professor when I earned my Bachelor’s in Journalism so many years ago. His influence has carried me through my career and my work to this day.
    My blessings and condolences to his family.

  11. David Lawrence Jr. at · Reply

    Hugh Cunningham was simply fundamental in my life as a journalist. A truly great teacher — insistent on accuracy and fairness. A man of the very best example of human decency and goodness. – Dave Lawrence, Miami

  12. Roberta Crapo at · Reply

    Please accept my condolences on your great loss.

  13. Norman Pinardi at · Reply

    My sincere regrets for your loss. Mr. Cunningham was my advisor when I first entered the School of Journalism in 1957. He and John Paul Jones and of course Buddy Davis were the main providers of my journalism and writing education, and I often think of each of them. Mr Cunningham was always a complete gentleman and a wonderful teacher. I made a career in banking in Manatee County, serving as president of two banks and now Vice Chairman of a third bank, and my ability to write clearly has always been crucial to my career. I owe everything to Mr. Cunningham and his colleagues in the School of Journalism. He will be missed.

  14. Noel D. Hollis at · Reply

    My condolences to the Cunningham family. Mr. Cunningham was instrumental in helping me to obtain a scholarship through a Minority Scholarship program (that existed in the 1980s). I also worked with Mr. Cunningham and Linda Gray for approximately six years in the President’s office under Robert Q. Marston.

    May the Cunningham family find strength and understanding during this difficult time.

  15. Clyde & Phyllis Stephens at · Reply

    Chuck, we are deeply saddened to learn of the death of your father. We were lucky to have him and your mother visit our home. He certainly left a great legacy that you and the family can be proud of. Our sincere condolences to you and the family.

  16. Alan Hirsch at · Reply

    There isn’t a lot to say that the eloquent folks before me haven’t said much better than I could ever imagine.
    You know what stands out about Mr. Cunningham? That after nearly 45 years after I graduated from the Journalism College, I remember Hugh Cunningham. You might think that this doesn’t mean much. However, outside of Buddy Davis ad High Cunningham, I cannot remember another professor at the University of Florida. My memory is not what it used to be, but I remember these two fine men. Thank you, Lord, for putting them here. I’m sure they are safe with you now.

  17. Dan Mowbray at · Reply

    There are a few teachers in your student life that are outstanding, that you remember went “the extra mile” and wouldn’t let you slide. In short, teachers who were not only good about what they did but actually cared about you. Such a teacher was Mr. Cunningham. He actually got me to go to class on Saturday – voluntarily! That’s saying something – I can tell you – back in the day. I always remembered him as a wonderful teacher – now I remember him as a wonderful man. In short – he cared when he didn’t have to. A life well lived.

  18. Jeraldine Williams at · Reply

    While Professor Hugh Cunningham’s sphere of influence was broad, my memories are uniquely narrow and ancient. We met 52 years ago, when I appeared under the stadium at the School of Journalism and Communications (not yet College) as the first Negro student to study journalism. Four years later, I was the first Negro student to graduate from the school in 1967. I had been born Colored. I was then a Negro. I later became an African-American. Now, I am designated as a Black. Professor Cunningham witnessed those stages. I was one of 14 Negro undergraduate students on a campus with 14,000 students. I had no one with whom I could comfortably relate. Dean Rae O. Weimer and Mr. Cunningham warmly embraced my presence and talked to me.

    As time went on, Professor Cunningham drew me closer and learned about me as a person–not just as a student. He encouraged me in a closed environment where there was NO other Negro–administrator, professor, clerical staff, athlete, coach, janitor. I struggled through survival of that near-isolation; however, I felt encouraged as I neared graduation.

    I announced to Professor Cunningham that I was entering the William Randolph Hearst National Journalism Competition. I was propelled from stage to stage by winning in monthly contests. Professor Cunningham was pleasantly astonished at my series of successes. I remained focused and quiet. He and I considered a subject for me to tackle for my final monthly submission. Mr. Cunningham kept massaging my ego and making suggestions as I approached the point of actually qualifying to compete in the national finals. We reached an impasse on his suggestion that I write about Being Black on Saturday Night (at Sarah’s on 5th Avenue, where Negroes listened to music, danced, and ate a light fare). I was there, but I refused to write about it. Eventually, the opportunity found me.

    1967, three years after passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act, I walked from the Gainesville Sun Newspaper with my fellow White journalism seniors, Professor Cunningham, and met a White local attorney to have lunch and take a break from editing and laying out the Thursday paper. As the eight of us sat at a round table, the White waitress placed a setting before seven; I was ignored. Following a silent and personal implosion, I left the restaurant. Professor Cunningham was informed. He later told the Sun’s editor, Buddy Johnson, who summoned me. Buddy listened to my rants about illegal discrimination in public accommodations and the insult that I experienced. He advised me to write a three-part series about: Public Accommodations, Town-Gown Relationship, and Police-Community Relations. After he ran the three-part series, I entered it as my final submission for the Hearst monthly contest. Subsequently, I won as a finalist in the nation.

    Professor Cunningham found me at my off-campus apartment to inform me of my personal victory (the first Negro in the country to win nationally), and the university’s victory (highest score attained by any UF contestant up to that time). By less than a hair, I had come in second in the country and was one of only two winners honored in Washington, D.C.

    I cherish the picture of Professor Cunningham, Dean Rae O. Weimer, and UF President J. Wayne Reitz with U. S. President Lyndon Johnson at the White House, because of my achievement. At the same time, I was being presented my award in the U.S. Senate by Vice President Hubert Humphrey, U.S. Senator from Florida, Spessard Holland, and Mr. William Randolph Hearst, II.

    Professor Cunningham visited me at my home in Tallahassee, where my husband was serving as President at Florida A & M University. Later, Professor Cunningham found me on the e-mail, upon my return to the country from a five-year stint in South Africa. I know that he was significantly instrumental in the many honors that the College of Journalism bestowed upon “his student.” Fondly, we stayed in touch to discuss ownership of my weekly newspaper, my international coverage of post apartheid-South Africa, my practice of law, and my approach to writing a bi-continental memoir, featuring President Mandela.

    As long as I live, his spirit will live. We all share a great loss. Condolences to his family.

  19. Steve Vaughn at · Reply

    What a great life to celebrate! This great man shaped so, so many newspaper careers, including mine.

  20. David Futch at · Reply

    I am grateful for having known such a fine human being as Hugh Cunningham.. Like my friend and colleague, Jeff Houck, Hugh took a flyer on me and changed my life when I accepted a job as a political writer at the Anchorage Times in the early 90s. I was working as editor of a small weekly in Boca Grande. FL when Hugh called me out of the blue and said he needed someone to cover Alaska politics. I jumped at the chance, but if it had not been for Hugh, I never would have left the sunny comfort of Florida for the cold winters and marvelous summers of the Great Land. I covered the governor’s office and the legislature, went whale hunting with Eskimos in the Bering Sea who had to kill a whale or half the village of Gambell would starve to death. I wrote about Kodiak Coast Guard sea and air rescue that worked an area the size of the continental U.S. It was a great time to be a journalist and Hugh was right there guiding me all the way.
    Jeff Houck and I were in a club called the Bounders led by copy editor and world-class mountain climber, Fern Chandonnet, who took us on many hikes in the Chugach and Talkeetna mountain ranges. I fell in love with the place. Even after the Times was sold and I moved back to Florida, the lure of Alaska kept me going back. Over the next few years, I spent five summers in wilder ness Alaska fishing for all five species of salmon, Dolly Varden and rainbow trout to 10 pounds. (That’s right. 10 pound rainbows. They don’t even look real. The Alaska River Safaris’ camp record for a rainbow was 13 pounds.)
    The greatest adventures of my life happened because of Hugh Cunningham. For that and his kindness, I am eternally grateful.

  21. Nancy McDavid at · Reply

    Hugh was my Sunday School teacher at Faith Presbyterian Church in Gainesville, where he taught the Westminster Confession of Faith. He helped me so much to understand the Scriptures as I wanted to know and walk closer with the Lord. He was a man of great faith, wisdom, and credibility. Imagine having the courage and faith to organize a PCA church. I am so grateful he did. Hugh touched and enriched my life and many lives over his long lifetime. My deepest sympathy to his family as they grieve, but may you be comforted in knowing that Hugh is now in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  22. Melvin L. Sharpe at · Reply

    I became acquainted with Hugh Cunningham as Assistant to the President to J. Wayne Reitz and later to Steven C. O’Connell. Hugh provided counsel to the UF presidents that was always respected and appreciated on many issues in the 1960 and 70s when the campus experienced a number of disruptive demonstrations. But I knew him best from the comments of students who informed me of how much he had meant to their lives. He was a teacher of the very best in journalism performance and his influence continues through the many students he touched. His was a life that should be celebrated by all that had the privilege of knowing him and fortunately that was many at the UF.

  23. Joseph D'Alessandro at · Reply

    I had Mr. Cunningham for a couple of classes at Uof F. I graduated in 1961. I have memories of working at the Gainesville Sun and writing numerous articles on a variety of subjects. The one that I remember most is the assignment he gave me to research the first freedom of the press ruling in the United States. I went to the law library and all the books there were like nothing I had ever seen before. No titles….no card indices to look them up. A law student helped me find what I needed for my research.
    When I read the case of John Stewart Zanger( I believe that was his name) brain exploded. I could not believe that people wrote like I thought. I thought my thinking process was weird but it was wasn’t. I found what I wanted to do in life and that was to be a lawyer. I became a lawyer in June of 1965 and am still engaged in the practice of law. I was a prosecutor (State Attorney 20th Judicial
    Circuit) for 34 years
    Mr. Cunningham taught me how to think on my feet and helped me hone my writing skills that helped me my entire legal career. Over the years I have thought of him many many times. “May the Peace of The Lord” be with his family.

  24. Dean Bunch at · Reply

    We spent the summer of 1969 together at the St. Times and Evening Independent. High was always calm but at the same time was intensely committeed to assuring that you “got the point” and made the right call on the story. His family can be intensely proud of his contribution to society.

  25. oldmaidcatlady at · Reply

    I only recently learned of Mr. Cunningham’s passing. During my senior year at UF in the late 1970s, I worked for him as a student assistant in University Information in the UF President’s Office. As a long-winded writer with no journalistic experience and a background in marketing, I was ill-prepared for the job! But with kindness and patience, he taught me how to write journalistically. His acumen in pitching stories to newspaper editors was something I keenly observed and from which I learned the best PR practices. Even though he was no longer teaching at that time, he taught me so much! I know that his family misses him greatly, and I wish them peace as they recover from his loss.

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