It was just five weeks ago – Tues., Nov. 2 – that I ran in to old friend Bob Cunningham outside the library in Lower Mills. He was there to vote in the state election. It was a happy meeting. I was with family and I told them about his storied activities growing up in local politics.
“Cutsy” was a lifelong friend of former State Rep and Congressman Brian Donnelly, and in the 1970s he worked in the first Michael Dukakis administration as Undersecretary of Public Safety. His friend Bobby White said of him this week: “In 1978 he was Civil Defense Director. He ran ‘the Bunker’ in Framingham for the Blizzard of ’78. Governor Dukakis showed up with a suit and tie and Bob immediately put a big white sweater on him. He made the Duke look the part anyway.”
Bob was a Dot guy to his core: Lower Mills born and bred, a graduate of Hyde Park High and Boston College, a graduate degree from Cornell, and a law degree from New England School of Law. A big bear of a man, he was always a joy to see, and after our brief encounter last month, I wondered why I didn’t make an effort to spend more time with him.
This week, I learned that he passed away last Sunday. He had looked so healthy, so full of life just five weeks ago. But last week, after successful hip replacement surgery, friends say he was convalescing at home when a blood clot took his life.
Cutsy will be waked at Molloy’s tonight from 3 to 8 p.m.; a funeral mass is set for 11 tomorrow morning. An Army veteran, he will be buried with honors at the National Cemetery in Bourne. He leaves behind his mother Catherine, of Rockland, and his fiancée, Maggie McAveeney of Milton whom he was to marry on Valentine’s Day. He also leaves two children, Kendra and Kristen Cunningham, both of New York.
The stunning word of his loss brought to mind a Charles Hanson Towne poem often recited by the late Speaker Tip O’Neill:
Around the corner I have a friend,
In this great city that has no end;
Yet days go by, and weeks rush on,
And before I know it a year is gone,
And I never see my old friend’s face,
For life is a swift and terrible race.
He knows I like him just as well
As in the days when I rang his bell
And he rang mine. We were younger then,
And now we are busy, tired men:
Tired with playing a foolish game,
Tired with trying to make a name.
“Tomorrow,” I say, “I will call on Jim,
Just to show I am thinking of him.”
But tomorrow comes – and tomorrow goes,
And the distance between us grows and grows.
Around the corner! – yet miles away . .
“Here’s the telegram, Sir. . .
‘Jim died today’.”
And that’s what we get, and deserve in the end:
Around the corner, a vanished friend.