Long-time Los Altos resident Robert "Bob" Cunningham will be remembered Thanksgiving weekend at a funeral Mass on November 30, 11:00 a.m., at St. Nicholas Church in Los Altos. Mr. Cunningham passed away peacefully on September 5, 2013, at his home at The Forum at Rancho San Antonio, after spending time with all five of his children and many of his grandchildren. He was 89 years old.
For more than 30 years, he was a highly regarded human resources executive at a biotechnology firm in the Silicon Valley, Beckman Instruments, before retiring in 1988. Having served with distinction in the Navy and Marine Corps during World War II and the Korean War, his remains will be interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, alongside his wife of nearly 50 years, Mary Lou (Stueck) who predeceased him in 1999.
Bob Cunningham was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1923. He was the second son of Barbara Dorn and Bernard Cunningham, brother of Bernie Cunningham and is survived by his sister, Madge Marten of Florida.
A true Renaissance man, he began taking art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago at age 10 and continued to paint and enroll in community art classes until his death. Bob attended high school at the downtown Chicago campus of Loyola Academy, and remained active in their Bay Area alumni association. When his parents moved further up the North Shore, he transferred to New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. At New Trier he had the opportunity to share the stage with the young actor Charlton Heston. Bob would fondly recall his own one line in the play, “It is only a rumor.”
Upon graduation, Bob attended the University of Illinois. As the U.S. entered World War II, Bob enlisted in the Navy in the hopes of being a fighter pilot. Instead he was sent to electronics school and was deployed to the South Pacific. As a radio operator, he landed on the shores of New Caledonia and the Philippines to signal Japanese troop status to nearby ships. He recalled being issued winter gear, in anticipation of the invasion of Japan, but his tour ended in the South Pacific with the Japanese surrender.
Bob returned to Chicago and joined the Marine Corps Reserves. With a long-time interest in architecture, he re-entered college at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and studied under legendary Bauhaus architect, Meis Van de Rohe, earning a B.A. degree in 1948. Named “Man of the Year” his senior year, he was offered a position on the faculty as Assistant Dean of Students upon graduation.
Soon Uncle Sam came knocking and Bob was called back for active duty in the Marine Corps for the Korean War. He attended officer candidate school at Quantico, Virginia, and was deployed to Camp Pendleton, in Southern California, where he led a tank commander-training unit as a First Lieutenant. He never crossed the Pacific during the war, but did travel to Los Angeles where he met his future wife, Mary Lou Stueck.
After a short courtship, they were married on July 5, 1951. They spent their first year of marriage in Chicago, where Bob remained on the Illinois Tech faculty. With their first child on the way and the lure of more temperate California climate, Bob and Mary Lou returned to Southern California where he accepted a job in human resources with Fullerton-based Beckman Instruments.
His 30-year career took him from Southern California to offices in Northern California, Geneva Switzerland, and back to Palo Alto where Bob headed up human resources for the medical instrument company’s Spinco Division, retiring in 1988.
They settled in Los Altos in 1966, where Bob lived until moving to the Forum at Rancho San Antonio last year. He and Mary Lou were active in St. Nicholas Church, Villa Sienna, and their children’s schools, including Stanford University’s Committee for Art. They were also passionate about travel and their unique experiences included bowing to the King of Thailand, audiences with the Pope, exploring flea markets in Europe, safaris in Africa, volunteering for Mother Theresa in India, boat rides down the Nile and riding public buses in Damascus, Syria. He continued his travels, after Mary Lou's death, with his close friend and companion, Janis Black of Los Gatos.
Bob enjoyed playing some of the world’s greatest golf courses, yet equally enjoyed playing at the local Shoreline Golf Course as a Shoreline Senior. But nothing mattered more to him than family, friends and colleagues. All will remember his Irish charm and signature smile. He is survived by his adoring children Kathleen Matthews (Chris), Maureen Cunningham, Ann Kauffman (Jim), Robert Jr. (Sherri), and Carol Seitz (Tom,) as well as his 11 grand children and one great-granddaughter. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Cancer Society, where his wife was an active volunteer.