Obituary of Robert Cunningham (1928 – 2021) – Atlanta, Georgia




At the age of 93, physician, community and religious leader, pioneer of CPR, torchbearer of the Atlanta Olympics, passed away peacefully on November 4, 2021 at The Mann House Assisted Living.

Born January 23, 1928 to Mary Mangrem and William Everhart Cunningham, he and Verdery Roberts were married on June 8, 1950. He grew up on Penn Avenue, spending summers hunting and fishing with his brothers on their grandfather’s farm. mother in Columbia, TN. He was a graduate of Boy’s High, Emory University and Emory Medical School.

Dr Cunningham practiced medicine as an internal medicine specialist from his office in Cypress Street, made ‘house calls’ and was medical director for 10 years at Highview and Happy Haven Nursing Homes. In 1966 he became a corporate medical director and later a consultant for Southern Bell / Bell South, where he worked for 31 years. He has been certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, and a Trustee of the Medical Association of Atlanta.

He was eternally grateful to his staff, Ann Strickland and nurses Mary Ann Jones and Annette Barfield, and worked closely with the company’s medical directors, Drs. Julian Albergotti (Caroline), James Byrne (Florida) and Kenneth Woodsides (Georgia). He was particularly proud of the programs developed and led by Bell South associates, Dr. Ron Finch (Employee Assistance Program) and Dr. Joann Patterson (LifeReach). The former has been touted as “a world class program” by Drs. Paul Roman (UGA) and Terry Blum (GA Tech). LifeReach received an Award of Excellence from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

In 1969, along with Dr. Joe Wilbur, Dr. Cunningham helped introduce and develop the Georgia Heart Association’s Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) program. For 14 years, he taught basic and advanced cardiac resuscitation throughout Georgia to medical professionals, athletic coaches and stadium staff in Fulton County. He received the Meritorious Service Awards in Bronze (1971) and Silver (1975) from the American Heart Association. In 1984, Dr. John Forestner, president of the American Heart Assoc. The Emergency Cardiac Care Committee has issued an acknowledgment of Dr. Cunningham’s volunteer service as “valuable service to this organization.”

Assoc. Atlanta Medical presented Dr. Cunningham with the Aven Cup Citizenship Award in 1976. Commenting on this honor, Dr. Bill Galloway, longtime friend and associate, said: “You have touched the lives of many people of all ages. and you have made a tremendous contribution to medicine, especially in the important areas of preventive medicine and fitness. “

He was for many years director of the boards of directors of the Northside and the Metropolitan YMCA, GA Tech Inst. Review Board, Sterling Inst., Inst. Exam Boards for Human Research and American Humanities at GA State Univ. He has helped build 20 Habitat for Humanity homes and has volunteered with many organizations including the Hartsfield / Jackson Airport USO, the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Special Olympics Georgia.

At the Northside YMCA, he was instrumental in the development of “Teen Involvement,” a drug education program using high school students to counsel elementary students. Adopted by the Metropolitan YMCA, 11 high schools and 31 elementary schools have used the program. He was an air surgeon in the US Air Force stationed in Texas and Morocco, North Africa, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Atlanta for 25 years, and former chairman of the executive committee of the Alumni Association of Emory University.

A sports fan, Dr. Cunningham was an accomplished soccer referee for high school and local amateur games. He volunteered as a team doctor for the first professional football teams, Atlanta Chiefs and Apollos, and the high school football teams in Sandy Springs and Ridgeview. He served in the 1984 Olympic Torch Relay Medical Unit (Los Angeles). In 1996, he was selected as the “Community Hero Torch Bearer” for the Atlanta Olympics and worked at the Centennial Park Medical Clinic and the Stadium Clinic for the Paralympic Games. Dr Cunningham competed in the Peachtree Road Race and in 1987 helped organize the Atlanta Mayor’s Walk, a local institution for over 20 years.

A committed member of St. James United Methodist Church for over 65 years, Dr. Cunningham has held many leadership and service positions. He was instrumental in drafting the Church’s mission statement, “HELPING EVERYONE GROW IN THE FAITH THAT TRANSLATES BELIEF INTO ACTION,” embodying this in his daily life, including, with his wife Verdery, who taught 9 month Bible study courses for disciples for 14 years and participated in 4 mission trips to West Virginia and Costa Rica. He has served on the Atlanta-Roswell District Committee on Ordained Ministry (11 years), the South GA Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (13 years) and the Aldersgate Home Board (13 years).

Since their first date at the Fox Theater, he had been devoted to his nearly 71-year-old high school girlfriend and wife, Verdery, who died in April of this year. In addition to their church work together, for 23 years, they opened their Christmas home for international students from across the United States, hosted a high school exchange student from Ecuador, hiked in North Georgia, the Rockies and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and cycling along the Danube in Germany and Austria. In 2017, they made their last adventure trip and walked the glaciers of Alaska.

He is survived by his son Robert Mangrem Cunningham (Sally), his daughter Verdery Cunningham Trimmer, his son Buck Roberts Cunningham (Melrose); grandchildren Charlie Cunningham, Gracie Cunningham, Crawford Trimmer, Emily Cunningham McLaughlin (Conor), James Cunningham and Clay Trimmer; and great-grandchildren Hope and Aidan Cunningham. He was predeceased by his wife Verdery, daughter Mary Katharine Cunningham, son-in-law Bob Trimmer and brothers William Everhart (Jennie) Cunningham and Joseph Chapman (Pat) Cunningham.

The service will be held at St. James United Methodist Church on Wednesday, November 10, 2021 at 3:00 p.m., with family visits from 2:00 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. at the church. Memorials can be made at St. James UMC, 4400 Peachtree Dunwoody Rd., Atlanta, GA 30342, or at Special Olympics Georgia, 6046 Financial Road, Norcross, GA 30071.

Published by Atlanta Journal-Constitution on November 7, 2021.



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