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James F. Cunningham, operations manager and auditor, dies

James Cunningham became the "man of the house" at age 10.
James Cunningham became the "man of the house" at age 10. (Handout / HANDOUT)

James F. Cunningham, an operations manager and auditor who savored politics and liked spending weekends on his boat, died Dec. 8 of cancer at his home in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. The former Ednor Gardens resident was 53.

James Franklin Cunningham, the son of MaryAnne Cunningham, was born in Baltimore and raised in Ednor Gardens.

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While he was a senior a City College, Mr. Cunningham interned with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the 3rd District City Council, and also was an active member of the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside Civic Association. He built the neighborhood sign that still stands at 36th Street and Ellerslie Avenue.

A politics buff, Mr. Cunningham worked in the campaigns of his uncle, City Councilman Bill Cunningham, Mike Curran, Joseph Curran, Jack Lapides, Frank Gallagher and other local politicians.

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After graduating from City in 1985, he enrolled at Towson University, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1989.

In 1991, he went to work for General Electric Corp. in Richmond, Virginia, as an operations manager and auditor, and in the mid-1990s moved to Schwenksville. He left GE in 2013 and took a similar position with Hale Trailer Brake & Wheel in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he was working at the time of his death.

As a child whose parents divorced when he was 7, he took it upon himself when he was 10 to be the “man of the house” and a role model for his two younger brothers, said a brother, Thomas Cunningham of Locust Point.

“He was always the household handyman,” Mr. Cunningham said, and went about painting the exterior of the house between the ninth and 10th grade, installing ceiling fans and attending to any need that arose.

“He did all these things, not because our mother told him to — he did it because he knew Mom was on her own and it was the only way our family could afford it,” his brother said.

In addition to his work around the family home, he held part-time jobs delivering newspapers and pizza, working in McLellan’s Deli, and working weekends cutting lawns.

“He put himself through college starting his own lawn care service and working for a home improvement contractor,” Mr. Cunningham said.

In 1991, he married the former Jennifer Rowles, an Ednor Gardens neighbor whom he met and fell in love with his senior year at City when she was a Mercy High School sophomore.

In addition to home improvement projects, he enjoyed attending the couple’s three daughters’ swim meets, coaching their soccer teams, watching Eagles games, spending every weekend on his boat, the Southern Comfort 3, anchored at the Bush River Yacht Club, and being with family and friends. He was fleet captain at the yacht club last year.

For the last decade, Mr. Cunningham suffered from the cancer that eventually claimed his life.

“If it weren’t for the love he has for Jennifer and the three girls, I don’t believe he would have made it as long as he did in his battle with cancer,” his brother said.

A private graveside service was held Dec. 14 in the Cunningham family plot at the Darlington Cemetery in Harford County. Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering are incomplete because of the pandemic.

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In addition to his wife of 29 years and his brother, he is survived by three daughters, Megan Cunningham, Maura Cunningham and Caitlin Cunningham, all of Schwenksville; and another brother, Robert Cunningham of Prince Frederick.

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