Special to Fayette Newspapers
Richard “Dick” Cunningham, 70, spent six years in pro football, playing for the Buffalo Bills. The former linebacker’s playing days are over, but he’s still part of a vibrant team. He is now a courtesy cart driver for the Piedmont Fayette Hospital Auxiliary, making sure his passengers always touch down at their destinations safely.
Cunningham had reached the zenith for football players. He played professionally and mixed it up with some of the greatest to ever play the game. But the best thing to happen to him because of playing in the NFL was meeting his wife. He met Carole, the sister of a teammate, and fell in love almost immediately.
“I told her I would take her out after our preseason game against the Lions on Friday,” Cunningham recalled. We hit it off, went out again Saturday and I proposed on Sunday. We were married the following Sunday, after our first game of the season against the New York Jets.”
The Cunninghams have been married for 47 years.
Cunningham showed that same spontaneity when settling down in Fayetteville. Passing through on the way home from a beach vacation, the family stopped on the lawn of the courthouse and fell in love. Carole, a teacher, crossed the street and spoke with the superintendent. A few days later, she was offered a job at Hood Avenue Elementary and the family had a new place to call home.
Cunningham’s firm handshake and sense of humor helped him transition into a successful sales career. His son, Karekin, was interested in playing football, so he got involved with the youth league and was president of the Fayetteville league for several years and instrumental when the stadium at McCurry Park was built.
When retirement came, Cunningham launched into numerous projects around the house and in the backyard. Carole, at the urging of their neighbor, decided to join the Piedmont Fayette Auxiliary and soon recommended it to her husband. He now drives the courtesy cart every Tuesday.
“I love what I do. I meet people and try to make their day happier or at least a little bit lighter,” Cunningham said. “I encourage people to park on my side, give them my card and tell them to call us when they need a ride. I haven’t lost a car yet.”
Cunningham is quick with a joke but serious about contributing to the community. He credits much of his character to a lesson from his old college coach.
“One thing that always sticks with me is the four don’ts of the kicking game: don’t be offsides, don’t rough the kicker, don’t let the ball hit the ground and thou shalt not clip,” Cunningham said. “Those rules can apply to life if you think about it. Don’t make costly mistakes, take advantage of opportunities, be ready to play and play smart.”
The lesson has stayed with Cunningham over the years and he puts them into practice every week. When he gets in his cart he is ready to play and drive his passengers to their goal