SSW mourns the loss of Professor Jim Cunningham

The School of Social Work was deeply saddened to learn that former SSW Professor Jim Cunningham passed away on March 28, 2014 at the age of 91. Professor Cunningham was a a trailblazer in community organization — helping stakeholders take active roles in improving their neighborhoods.  

A longtime professor at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work, Mr. Cunningham spent his career working on neighborhood development, community organizing and social justice issues.

“He really embodied social work. He was a fighter for social justice,” said Larry Davis, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh.

Tracy Soska, an assistant professor at Pitt's School of Social Work, is a former student of Mr. Cunningham.

“Jim had his hands in so many things that dealt with communities and neighborhoods, that dealt with race and reconciliation … for me, he was a teacher first, then a mentor, then a colleague and a friend,” Soska said.

Cunningham helped form the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Alliance, published four books on urban neighborhood developments, cofounded the Race and Reconciliation Dialogue group at St. Paul Cathedral parish in Oakland and volunteered with the Living Wage Campaign.

For more than a decade, he served as the Democratic Party ward chairman for Pittsburgh's 7th Ward, and in 1971, he made an unsuccessful run for city council. A few years later, he was the executive director of the City of Pittsburgh Home Rule Government Study Commission.

Mr. Cunningham is survived by his children: Anne Moore of Brewster, Mass.; Mary Gilman of Wendell Depot, Mass.; James Cunningham Jr. of Green Tree; Mark Cunningham of Mt. Pleasant; Harry Cunningham of Concord, N.H.; Steve Cunningham of Oakland; David Cunningham of Pleasant Hills; Paul Cunningham of Richland; Patrick Cunningham of Bethel Park; and John Cunningham of Greenfield, Mass. In addition, he is survived by 21 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife.

Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday in John A. Freyvogel Sons Inc., 4900 Centre Ave., Shadyside. A Mass of Christian burial will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday in St. Paul Cathedral, 108 N. Dithridge St., Oakland.

You can read more about his life and work in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Tribune Review, the University Times, and a Letter to the Editor from Brian Conay, Department of Sociology, National University of Ireland.