John Henry James Cunningham III

Published 10:14 am Wednesday, June 14, 2023

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Out of tune, and nearly tone deaf, he sang an old hymn and read scripture to his bed-ridden wife every day before she passed just before Christmas. He then battled, for a second time, a cancer that ate away at his once marathon-running body and caused sickness and pain. On May 19, 2023, John Henry James CUNNINGHAM III, age 92, joined his wife “Rannie” of 59 years in Heaven. Born in 1931 to J H J Cunningham Jr. and Virginia Beatrice Clark (nee Pryor) in Wood County, West Virginia, John moved throughout his adult life living in Virginia, New York, New Mexico, Maryland, New Jersey, Alabama, and finally retiring in 1992 to Bainbridge, Georgia for over twenty-five years before moving to North Carolina.

After graduating from Parkersburg High School, John followed a family tradition by enlisting in the Armed Services of the United States. He served in the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Service from 1948 to 1952, the final two years during the Korean War. Upon returning home he attended Virginia Tech from 1952 to 1956 receiving a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. He did graduate study at Syracuse University and New Mexico State University attaining the equivalent of a Masters Degree in Engineering Fundamentals while employed by the General Electric Co. His career as an engineer spanned several decades of the Cold War era where he worked for government agencies including the CIA, the department of defense, and defense contractors. Upon retirement, he moved with his wife to Bainbridge, Georgia where he taught high school science classes, and he focused considerable time on Christian ministry. He was ordained in 1998. 

He also continued his lifelong hobby of genealogy research publishing several articles. Joining other genealogists in the 1990s during the early days of DNA genealogy, he was dismayed to learn that his male ancestry was not Clan Cunningham after all; he and all of his descendants were “Tuckers”! Initial disillusion turned to pride as the old sleuth combed through local history, archival records, and DNA matches with distant cousins. In the end, he became just as proud of the work he did to uncover the details of the centuries-old family mystery. He would tell anyone and everyone that seemed interested. 

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And when he told them, he did so loudly and convincingly. He was always ready to turn any conversation — from the right way to play football to deep theology — into a combative winner-take-all debate. A trait which he certainly passed down to his children and grandchildren (a trait in which in-laws marvel at family reunions when a “Cunningham conversation” spontaneously increases by several decibels crowding out all other activity. )

While he mellowed in his later years, the occasional re-emergence of his younger self could come out. His competitiveness came out when he finished a bowling league at age 87 with just over a 130 average and said that he was finished because “I haven’t bowled under a 140 average in sixty years.” He could still drive at age 92, though some of the others on the road might disagree, but taking his keys away would be a fine way for a 60-year-old son to get a lecture like he was 16. And if you didn’t do something the “right way/John’s way” he might “explain” it to you in the same harsh tones that he once used to chastise his new daughter-in-law when she moved out of the way of a bull on the family farm while they were trying to get it back into the pen in pitch blackness. But while he could be demanding, he was also very demanding of himself; he always had work to do, learning to continue, emails to be sent, and prayers to be said. 

Born during the Great Depression, he was a school boy when his dad left to fight in World War II, A Navy man during the Korean War, a husband and father during the Civil Rights era and the 1960s, a government employee and contractor during the Cold War, a retiree at the turn of the millennium, and elder during the Great Recession, John’s life coincided with a vast array of social, political, and cultural changes. As a student of history, he would consider current political ideals and thoughts and his thinking did evolve.  However, he held his core beliefs throughout his life. He believed that God was in control and that people needed to prepare their hearts and souls for the return of the Lord. He believed that life was precious but death meant presence with the Creator of life. He believed that one should hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and pray for guidance.  

John is survived by his brother Robert Thomas Cunningham of West Virginia and sister-in-law Norma Jean (nee Lewis) and their children Carla and Mark. He is also survived by his children with Mary Jo (nee Hammer )— his daughter Mary Jean of Las Vegas, NV and her children, Erin (Steven Schnurstein), Jason Scott (Stephanie nee Breeze), and Kellen Scott; Evelyn Jane (James Higgins) of Raleigh, NC and her children, Nicole, Amanda (Daniel Roberts), and Tracy; his son, John Michael (Lynn nee Langley) missionaries to the Dominican Republic and his children John Michael II (Carrie nee Walter), Mallory (Marc Harris), and Katie; his step-daughter Tamera Deann Gardner of Virginia and her daughter Audrey;- and his son with Larayne, Roger Henry of Bainbridge, GA and his daughter Mary Anna (Kebo Chapman); He has a total of 13 grandchildren, and 19 great grand-children. John is preceded in death by his wife Helen Larayne (nee Stinson,) and two grandchildren. While an obituary rarely comprises the maiden names of spouses and references to first marriages, as John Henry leaves his legacy, the detail-oriented engineer and family historian would probably appreciate the specificity left for future generations of genealogists. 

 Despite the promise of a haunting, there will be a combined memorial service at a later date.

In leu of flowers, the family would like to suggest the following places as donations:

1) Nicole Higgins (granddaughter)  @ 1933 Boaz Rd, Raleigh, NC 27610.  Monies donated will be used to send foster children in Wake County, NC to summer camps.

2) John and Lynn Cunningham (son and daughter-in-law) missionaries in the Dominican Republic.  Monies should be sent to World Baptist Fellowship Missionaries, P.O Box 13459, Arlington, Texas 76094  Please write on the memo line Cunninghams, DR

3) Church of Perry Creek, the last church John attended, in Raleigh NC.  Checks can be made out to Jane Higgins and they will be passed on the church.