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Yale 62

Gary A. Cunningham

Born: July 4, 1940
Died: August 9, 2020

Gary CunninghamGary Allen Cunningham was born in Seattle, Washington to Chester Martin and Elsie Annette Peterson Cunningham. He prepared for Yale at Ballard High School in Seattle, graduating in 1958.

At Yale Gary, a member of Silliman College, was awarded the Townsend Prize for English composition, and on Dean’s List and scholarships. He had a very active undergraduate career. He was a member of Chi Epsilon (including service as secretary), Tau Beta Pi and ASCE (serving first as treasurer and then as secretary), The Banner Photography Board, Apollo Glee Club, Yale Glee Club, and the Alley Cats singers his senior year. He roomed with Jim Carthaus (now deceased) and Steve Iman, who graciously supplied information for this obituary essay.

Gary received his Yale degree in Civil Engineering. He then attended the University of Washington Law School and received his law degree in 1965.

On June 13, 1964 he married Marilyn Thunman, whom he had known since high school. He enlisted in the Army Reserve and was stationed at Fort Ord; he completed his obligated service with 4 years in the Navy’s new JAG program. Meanwhile he had begun his law practice as a deputy prosecutor for King County in Seattle. In 1967 he and Marilyn moved to a rural section of Kitsap County in Seabeck on the Hood Canal where they had a view of the Olympic Mountains from their living room windows. In the words of Steve Iman, Gary and Marilyn “lived humbly on one of the most gorgeous beaches of the world on Puget Sound.” They resided in their beach front home at Seabeck for 53 years until Gary’s death. Marilyn plans to reside there for the indefinite future.

Gary started with a general practice in Bremerton but over the years he began to focus on environmental issues and volunteer work for the Great Peninsula Conservancy, a regional land trust which he had helped create. He began by organizing the Kitsap Land Trust in 1989 and serving as its president for 7 years. In 2000 he negotiated the merger of the Kitsap Land Trust with 3 other small land trusts to form the Great Peninsula Conservancy. As a result of this merger the Conservancy became active in fund raising in order to acquire natural areas by purchase in addition to accepting land donations.

In our 40th Reunion Book Gary wrote of the satisfaction he derived from his land trust work:

“This activity has given me an opportunity to combine my love of the outdoors with my legal training to achieve tangible results. By necessity, a segment of the environmental community has to be confrontational, and I have great respect for it, but it is not what I enjoy doing on a day-to-day basis. I prefer putting transactions together between willing individuals and organizations.”

In 2012 he described his work for the Conservancy as “where I have best been able to make a significant contribution and it has been very satisfying.”

Over the years Gary and Marilyn indulged their shared interests in the outdoors, with golf, swimming, cross-country skiing, fishing, jogging and reading. In recent years until he contracted ALS they did a considerable amount of hiking including backpacking in the Olympic Mountains. “We have been to beautiful alpine areas,” he wrote, “which I never dreamed I would have been able to reach on foot in our late 60s and early 70s.” In addition, they have taken advantage of the Seattle sports scene and given “whole-hearted support to the Sonics, Seahawks, Mariners, and Huskies. We both have also enjoyed the Seattle Opera, an interest precipitated by my singing activities at Yale.”

In addition to his professional commitments, Gary has served on several boards including the Board of the Olympic Peninsula Kidney Center, the Hood Canal Environmental Council, the Great Peninsula Conservancy, Bremerton Rotary and the Kitsap County Bar. He is a past president of the Bar Association. He has served as a judge pro tem in the local courts and as an arbitrator in the superior court.

Gary also conducted Yale applicant interviews for more than 25 years.

Gary and Marilyn had no children. He died at his home on August 9, 2020, after a short battle with ALS. He is survived by Marilyn, his brother Jay (Yale ’64) of Waldport, Oregon, niece Anna and the many friends he made in Kitsap County. Graveside services were held at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Bremerton. Memorial donations may be made to the Great Peninsula Conservancy or the Hood Canal Environmental Council.


Robert G. Oliver