Baylor Mourns Death of Former University Chaplain and Trustee Milton Cunningham

Aug. 3, 2013
Dr. Milton CunninghamDr. Milton Cunningham, BA '50, served on the Baylor Board of Trustees and was University Chaplain from 1996-99.

WACO, Texas (Aug. 3, 2013) - Baylor University is mourning the passing of distinguished alumnus, former University Chaplain and chair of Baylor Board of Trustees Dr. Milton E. Cunningham, BA '50. The longtime pastor and missionary died Aug. 3, 2013 of complications following a stroke, having lived his life to the praise of the glorious grace of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was 84.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, 1300 Columbus Ave., in Waco. Burial will be private. Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6, at Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey, 6101 Bosque Blvd.

"Baylor University has lost a beloved member of our family in Dr. Milton Cunningham," said Baylor President Ken Starr. "He radiated with such joy his deep and abiding love for Jesus Christ through his selfless service as a missionary, pastor, denominational leader and University trustee. When he returned to Baylor to serve as University Chaplain, he had a profound impact on our campus, counseling, advising, consoling, encouraging and, sometimes, lovingly cajoling thousands of Baylor students, faculty and staff. We were all so blessed by 'Dr. C.' who left an indelible mark on our University community. Our prayers are with his wife Barbara and their sons Milton and Miller during this difficult time."

Cunningham was born in Victoria, Texas on Sept. 13, 1928, to Milton and Bertha Cunningham. His mother died a month after he was born. His father was an itinerant preacher and church planter, so they moved a great deal. He graduated from Austin High School and enrolled in Baylor when he was just 16 years old.

While at Baylor, he served as manager of the football team and earned the nickname "Squirrel." Cunningham told the Baylor Lariat in 1996 that as manager, his job was to tape athletes before games. Watching Cunningham use his two front teeth to tear the tape, a player dubbed him "Squirrel," which stuck for the rest of his college career.

It was at Baylor that he gave his life to Christ and answered the call to ministry. He treasured his relationship with Baylor President Dr. W.R. White, whom he credited with bringing him to faith. He earned his bachelor's degree in religion from Baylor in 1950 and later graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also received honorary degrees from the University of Corpus Christi and Baylor.

Cunningham and his wife Barbara were missionaries in Africa for 15 years, serving in Southern Rhodesia, Zambia, Kenya and Ghana. He was Senior Pastor at Westbury Baptist Church in Houston for 17 years before returning to Baylor in 1996 to serve as University Chaplain and director of denominational ministries. In that role, Cunningham counseled, advised and consoled thousands of Baylor students, faculty and staff.

"I'm a preacher - that's where my heart is," Cunningham said in 1996. "I want to be a friend of the people of this campus, and that includes everyone. I think the greatest Christian witness we can have is our relationships with each other. I want to be a Christian friend to everyone."

As University Chaplain, Cunningham oversaw Chapel-Forum, as it was called at the time, a program that featured speakers and events set in a Christian context.

"My desire is for Chapel-Forum to relate to the students," he said. "I want to use students, faculty and staff in the programming as much as possible. Chapel-Forum has the best potential of anything at Baylor to provide a sense of community at this university."

He retired as Chaplain in April 1999 but continued to serve as chaplain for various Baylor athletic teams.

"Though the title was never given, he most certainly was Chaplain Emeritus, as he continued pastoring this community in so many ways," said Dr. Burt Burleson, Baylor's current University Chaplain. "I was honored to minister in the long shadow he cast at Baylor University."

Burleson said he first met Cunningham in fall of 1977, when he was a Baylor student in charge of the pep rally and bonfire.

"I was told he would be a good speaker. So I invited him and he didn't disappoint. He had a way with a crowd and he loved Baylor... and so it was fitting that he finished his ministry here," Burleson recalled. "When I begin talking with the University about this position, we went to lunch, and I experienced the joy and love that was still overflowing [from him] for this place and especially the students here. It was his calling to be a friend to us."

In recent years, Cunningham was interim pastor at First Baptist churches in San Antonio, Athens, Corsicana and Woodville. He loved his connection to the Cowboy Church at White Mound near Gatesville. He also founded Heart and Hands, a missions foundation that sent students all over the world.

Cunningham also served as President of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and as chair of the Board of Trustees at Baylor. In 1989, he was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus of Baylor and also received the James Huckins Award for meritorious service to the University. In 2002, he received the George W. Truett Distinguished Church Service Award for living a life that reflected the true meaning of the University's motto "Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana" (For Church, For Texas) and exemplifying the life and career of the late George W. Truett.

Milton Cunningham leaves behind a legacy of family, faith, love, laughter, old hymns and the belief that one should never drive past a ball game or an ice cream stand without stopping.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Barbara Schultz Cunningham; two sons: Milton Brasher-Cunningham and his wife, Ginger Brasher-Cunningham, from Durham, N.C., and Miller Cunningham and his wife, Ginger, from Dallas; and two grandsons: Ben from New Orleans, La., and Scott and his wife, Marissa Cunningham, from Wheaton, Ill.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Milton Cunningham Scholarship Fund at Baylor University.

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