Warren was born on March 7, 1921 on a farm in rural West Virginia to Jennings and Sadie Cunningham. He was the middle of 12 children, and recalled becoming an uncle when he was just a youngster himself.
Lack of transportation to high school, as well as hardships produced by the Great Depression caused Warren to join the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) while only 15. After several years in CCC camps he returned home and started high school, but World War II called, and he was drafted in 1942 just short of graduation.
Warren’s leadership skills surfaced quickly, and he rose from the rank of Private First Class to Staff Sergeant at the end of his service in 1945. World War II gave him the opportunity to see the world, and also “introduced” him to his future wife, Wilma. She was the sister of one of his Army buddies, and a long-term written courtship led to their subsequent meeting and marriage in 1947.
After the war, Warren completed high school, and then secured a position with Marathon Paper in Wausau, Wisconsin to be close to Wilma prior to their marriage. Again, Warren’s innate talents and abilities were evident early in his working career. Lacking a college degree, he was nonetheless tapped to join the management training program of what would later become a division of American Can.
Through a number of promotions and corporate moves Warren ultimately joined the ranks of senior executives at American Can corporate headquarters in Greenwich, Conn., in 1972.
He retired at the age of 62, having worked for the same company for 37 years. His work in human resources had earned the respect and admiration of both management and labor.
Warren was a shining example of high standards for wise counsel, fairness, equity and honesty in both his professional and personal life.
In retirement Warren reached out and aided others, helping elderly and low-income people complete their tax returns, rebuilding homes damaged or destroyed by tornadoes, providing maintenance services to elderly homeowners, and constructing or repairing items for his children or grandchildren.
He was especially tender, patient and caring for his wife Wilma, whose memory declined with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, until her death in 2010. His 2012 summer garden was rich with bounty, and he was happy to share fruits and vegetables with family and friends. Until the end, Warren lived fully and independently, maintaining his home meticulously, doing laundry, preparing meals, baking muffins, watching college and professional football, attending church, and enjoying time with his family.
Rewarded with numerous professional accolades and accomplishments, Warren possessed great humility and deep faith. He was a “women’s libber” before the term had even been coined, promoting, mentoring and supporting all individuals who were hard-working, conscientious and honest, regardless of their gender or race. Over the years he and Wilma developed and nurtured long-term relationships with the many friends they acquired through numerous moves. His Christmas card list was still long, and he managed to remember birthdays and anniversaries that even his children forgot.
When thinking of Warren we are reminded of the passage from Matthew 5:13, where Jesus tells his disciples that “you are the salt of the earth”, meaning they are the best of the best, the finest of mankind. This is certainly how his family and many whose lives he touched will remember him.
Funeral services will be held Wednesday, January 16, 2013, at 2 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville with the Revs. John Simmons and Ted Anderson officiating. Burial will be in Jacksonville City Cemetery. The family will receive friends at the church Wednesday for one hour prior to services.
Mr. Cunningham died Saturday, January 12, 2013, at his residence.
Warren is survived by four children, Ralph (Lyn) of Conyers, Ga.; Bruce (Evonne), of Jacksonville, Kay (Rick O’Connor), of Tampa, Fla., Julie (Steve Broderson), of Versailles, Ky.; seven grandchildren, Meredith (Trent) Hall, Malee (Mitch) Potter, Margaret (Boyd) Scoggins, Alaina and Maura Broderson, Kara O’Connor, and Katherine Cunningham; eight great-grandchildren, Thomson, Carson, Harper, Brooks, Simon, Brady, Mason, and Fletcher; one surviving sibling, Helen Lawrence, of Columbus, Ohio, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
Pallbearers will be Boyd Scoggins, Jim Hamrick, Don Gaugler, Jim Lloyd, Jim Austin and Matovu Godfrey. Honorary pallbearers will be members of the Friendship Sunday School Class.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made in his memory to either The First United Methodist Church of Jacksonville, or to Heifer International, P.O. Box 8058, Little Rock, Arkansas 72203-8058.
Online condolences may be sent to the family at www.klbrownfuneralhome.com.
K. L. Brown Funeral Home and Cremation Center 322 Nisbet St., N.W. Jacksonville, AL 36265 256-435-7042