Bruce Cunningham

Bruce Cunningham (Courtesy photograph)

The N.C. House of Representatives has honored the life and memory of Bruce Cunningham.

Cunningham, a venerated local attorney, community leader and longtime member of the Moore County Board of Education, died July 5 while on vacation with his family in Ireland. He was 71.

“Bruce Cunningham deserves to be honored and remembered as a man devoted to his family, friends and the people of Moore County,” said resolution from state Rep. Jamie Boles, which was read by the House clerk at the conclusion of the session Monday night.

Boles’ resolution, called a member statement, said Cunningham’s death was a “a great loss” for Moore County.

“He was a fine gentleman, was a great servant and supporter of our community,” Boles said on the House floor before asking that the statement be read in its entirety at the conclusion of the session and included in House Journal.

Boles said Moore County “adopted a new son” in 1973 when Cunningham moved to Southern Pines fresh out of law school at the University of Virginia.

“He spent 45 years as both an attorney and a community leader,” Boles said. “He was a great supporter of education and history.”

Boles noted that Cunningham received “numerous honors and awards for his service to Moore County and his community.”

The Moore County Community Foundation recognized him as its Man of the Year in 2018, and the Kiwanis Club of the Sandhills honored him with its Builders’ Cup award in 2017.

Boles said Cunningham served as a public defender who gained legal notoriety defending suspects in capital murder cases.

In 2011, the N.C. State Bar presented Cunningham with the John B. McMillan Distinguished Service award, in part for his volunteer roles as adviser to the state’s chapter of criminal reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums and leadership positions in the N.C. Advocates for Justice.

Boles said Cunningham died suddenly “while enjoying” one of his favorite hobbies — biking. He and his wife, Ann Petersen, had been in Ireland with their daughters, Jennie and Katie, on a 30-year belated honeymoon trip.

The written statement said Cunningham got involved in his new community soon after his arrival.

Cunningham helped found the Tour de Moore bicycle race along with the annual Springfest arts and crafts festival in downtown Southern Pines. For 34 years, he directed what was then a 100-mile cycling race around Moore County.

Two decades later, Cunningham chaired the initial Sunrise Preservation Group in 1998, which restored the 1940s theater after years of physical decay.

“Bruce played a vital role in restoring and reviving the Sunrise Theater,” Boles said on the House floor.

Cunningham led efforts to transform a sandspur-infested patch of ground behind Southern Pines Primary School into the Blanchie Carter Discovery Park, named after the school’s former beloved principal. The holistic natural learning environment was eventually featured in national publications from The New York Times to Southern Living.

Cunningham had served on the Moore County Board of Education since 2004 and was most recently elected to a fourth term in 2016. He served as chairman for two years, from 2014–2016.

“Bruce was an advocate for progress and accountability,” the resolution said.

The resolution said Cunningham and the rest of the school board led efforts to replace some of the county’s oldest and crowded schools with new ones.

In addition to his work on the school board, Cunningham also “volunteered many hours judging debate competitions.” His wife is the former speech and debate teacher and head coach at Pinecrest High School.

The resolution said, “Bruce gave of his time and energy to virtually every aspect of his community and was admired and respected by everyone who knew him.”

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or dsinclair@thepilot.com

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