In Memoriam: Tom Cunningham

Thomas “Tom” Cunningham, dear friend and supporter of the Park Scholarships program, died on Sept. 12, 2023. 

After growing up in Monroe, NC, Tom went to NC State and graduated with his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in materials science and engineering. During his time at NC State, he joined the US Army Corps of Engineers. Tom was awarded the Bronze Star for his work as a combat engineer during war and attained the rank of captain. 

Post-graduation, Tom joined General Electric as a process engineer and worked his way up to engineering management over a 32-year career, retiring in 2006. Tom was married to Mimi Cunningham for 55 years and lived in Wilmington, NC. 

In 2017, Tom and Mimi established an endowment, alongside a planned gift, to support the Park Scholarships Program. The Cunninghams’ gifts have provided scholarship opportunities for many Park Scholars, with a particular focus on students who want to study materials science and engineering. Tom also shared his time with the Park Scholarships program for many years, as a member and chair of the Sandhills selection committee and by leading efforts to promote the scholarship through innovative initiatives and annual events. 

“During the 25 years I served on the Park Scholarships Selection Committee, I met many outstanding students. I am friends with many alumni I never would have met otherwise and I still keep in touch with the parents of students I met over the years. And while everyone knows how great the students are, I have also enjoyed interacting with the talented and dedicated team that runs the Park Scholarships program. When we learned that there was an opportunity for the greater Park community to support the future of the program, it was a no-brainer for Mimi and me to step up and create an endowment, and then to create a planned gift to co-name a Park Scholar. Being involved with the Park Scholarships program has transformed my philanthropy at NC State,” Tom said of his involvement with the program.

Tom worked closely with the program’s directors during his years of volunteer leadership. Laura Lunsford, who served as director from 1997-2008, recalled this of Tom:

“I don’t remember when I first met Tom in 1997, but I do remember being in his kitchen soon thereafter. Ten or 12 NC State alumni had joined me there for a training session on how to review Park Scholarships applications, back in the prehistory of having paper applications. He and his wife Mimi had a beautiful home, and it was large enough to accommodate the teams of reviewers who dispersed throughout the house. In fact, they even invited me to stay the night with them (I accepted that invitation). I remember reading applications on a sunny December day, swinging on their porch swing with another local volunteer. Later, we all convened in the living room and made the recommendations together for who would advance out of the region. The selection process soon outgrew their house but I treasure this memory because Tom and Mimi built a community by opening their house in this way for several years.  

People may think of engineers as stereotypically rigid and linear, and perhaps to be a good engineer Tom had those attributes. But I found him to be fair and open minded, and he helped to develop an inclusive and fair selection process for the Park Scholarships. He made the process better and he made me better. Tom loved NC State and I like to think the Park Scholarships made him love it even more. We sure loved him.”

Eva Feucht, director of the Park Scholarships program from 2008 to now, said: 

“Tom’s passion for NC State and the Park Scholarship led him to pour himself into our work. One year he wrote this to me: ‘I spent today reviewing the materials for the Finalists I will interview Saturday, and between tears and amazement I was barely able to contain the excitement I feel being part of this process.’ He never failed to offer astute guidance to us on where he felt we could improve, and he was just as quick with his praise and support. He hosted numerous events in Wilmington, invited many new people to join the Selection Committee, helped recruit scholarship recipients to join the Wolfpack, stayed connected to local Park Scholars and their families, and felt joy about his financial commitment to help secure the program’s future. When we spoke recently, he told me he just hoped he’d made a difference. Unquestionably, he did.”

In lieu of flowers, memorials are requested to the NCSU Foundation for the benefit of the Tom and Mimi Cunningham Park Scholarship Endowment. Mail to Park Scholarships, NC State University, Campus Box 7474, Raleigh, NC 27695-7474.

Visitation will be held from 2-4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 17, at Andrews Mortuary (1617 Market Street, Wilmington). At his request, there will be no memorial service.

Read Tom’s full obituary here.