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DignityUSA and Dignity/New York Mourn Passing of Thomas Cunningham

Thomas Cunningham passed away on February 12, 2014 after battling a rare form of cancer for several months. Tom was a member of Dignity/New York Chapter for more than three decades, served as DignityUSA Treasurer from 1985-1989, and also served briefly as Executive Director. Tom was a member of the committees responsible for Dignity’s national conventions in 1985 in New York and 1993 in New Orleans. In addition to his Dignity activities, Tom was a longtime member of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, a registered New York City Tour Guide, and an active member of several organizations of train enthusiasts. Professionally, Tom worked for many years in banking and as an independent tax preparer.

Elinor Crocker, who served as DignityUSA’s first Vice-President met Tom when he was treasurer for the 1985 New York Convention Committee and she was the national treasurer. They became friends during that planning process. Impressed with Tom’s talent and dedication, she asked him to run for treasurer on Jim Bussen’s national slate, where he served with distinction. “Tom was just a wonderful guy,” said Elinor. “He was a good treasurer, a nice man, one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. He was fastidious in his person and in everything he did. I am positive he had no trouble getting into heaven. He was just a beautiful man.”

Elinor notes that Tom had been a Dominican priest, and although he was laicized, he never lost his spiritual and pastoral side. “He wasn’t nosey, but if you asked for advice, he would give it. And it was always good, caring advice,” she recalled.

Jim Pilarski, who served alongside Tom as national Secretary, said, “I met Tom in 1984 when he came to Chicago to give the 1985 Convention report to the Board of Dignity.  He was one of the most organized people I had met.  Our friendship grew when we, along with Jimmy Bussen and Elinor Crocker, ran for the officers of Dignity.  Tom was the person who started Dignity accepting credit cards for Convention registration, helped place the national magazine response to the infamous Ratzinger Letter of 1986. He also suggested changing the organization name from ‘Dignity, Inc.’ to ‘Dignity/USA.’

Jim added, “Tom was one of the most gentle souls I knew.  He was generous, kind and thoughtful.  Tom was a person with so many of the wonderful qualities, but I will always remember him as a true gentleman.”

DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said, “Tom helped professionalize how DignityUSA managed its money, and helped us realize we needed to be intentional and strategic in our fund-raising. His work was meticulous. Tom responded generously to any call to service from our organization, and held us to high standards. His mark on our organization is immense and lasting. We offer condolences to Tom’s partner, the members of Dignity/New York, to those who came to love Tom by serving with him, and to all who mourn.”

Jeff Stone, secretary of Dignity/New York and director of media relations for DignityUSA, said, "I was privileged to spend time with Tom during his final months.  As all who knew him recognized, he had both a deeply spiritual side and also an extremely practical, highly organized side.  He put both to superb use in his service to Dignity and to many individuals, usually quietly and behind the scenes.  From many people, I heard stories of how Tom had given tirelessly of his time and energy to do their taxes, organize their finances, health care, and housing, and generally help to get their lives back together after a crisis.  He will be deeply missed by them and all his dear friends in the New York chapter and the other organizations to which he belonged."

Tom died peacefully in a hospice residence with his partner, Peter, at his side.  Many members of the New York chapter accompanied Tom faithfully during his final months.  Tom will be cremated and his ashes will be interred with his parents in Massachusetts.  Dignity/New York will hold a memorial Mass for Tom in the near future.