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Dr. Merrilee Cunningham


1943 - 2019
Dr.  Merrilee Cunningham Obituary
Merrilee Allison Cunningham
1943-2019
Dr. Merrilee Allison Cunningham, professor, poet, mentor, sister, mother, and grandmother died quietly while surrounded by her family on June 2, 2019.
Merrilee was born in Fort Benning, GA and grew up in Atlanta where she attended Grady High School. Merrilee completed her undergraduate work at Northwestern University, where she was the secretary of Civil Rights Club from 1964-1966. She and her husband Paul Cunningham (deceased) were amongst the first Peace Corps volunteers (1967-69) and served in Colombia before returning to do graduate work at Marshall University, then Vanderbilt University where Merrilee obtained her doctorate in Renaissance Literature.
Merrilee was a Professor Emeritus of English Literature at the University of Houston-Downtown, where she taught Shakespeare and World Literature to thousands--many of them proud first-generation college students--from 1974 until her retirement in December 2018. Dr. Cunningham won multiple teaching and faculty awards and was a Faculty Advisor to both the Model UN and Model Arab League at UH-D. She developed travel-study courses that helped students study literature from around the world, with a semester capstone of trips to cities such as London, New Orleans, and Paris. Dr. Cunningham also taught courses at the University of Houston's Honors College. For nearly a decade, she traveled to Serbia and Macedonia as a poet and cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department. She also served in Houston Writers in the School (WITS) program that seeks to engage children in the joy and power of reading and writing. Merrilee's own scholarly writings can be seen in Oxford University Press, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, and her book of poetry, Something Will Come to Us, was published in 2014.
Behind literature, poetry, and teaching, Merrilee had an abiding lifelong passion for both antique jewelry and baseball—gleefully cheering for the Houston Astros and her hometown team, the Atlanta Braves.

Merrilee is preceded in death by her husband, Paul Francis Cunningham, her father James Howard Allison Jr., mother Mary Elizabeth Callaway, her stepfather Arch John Riggall Jr, and her sister Belinda Allison. She is survived by her sisters Sharon Barnhart and Kathleen Wilson; brothers Chris, Michael, and Steven Riggall, goddaughter Francesca Gutierrez and her husband Mathew Lodge, daughter Susannah Cunningham and her fiancée Ian Magruder, son Matthew Cunningham, daughter Meredith Cunningham Soto and husband Frank Soto Jr, her co-grandmother Rosa Soto, and her most beloved grandson, Sagan Alexander Soto.

Services and Reception to celebrate the life of Merrilee will be held Saturday, June 8th at 3:30pm at Christ Church Cathedral, 1117 Texas Ave in downtown Houston with reception to follow. All who knew and loved her are welcome! Church Parking is available at 515 San Jacinto Street.
Published in Houston Chronicle on June 7, 2019
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