Goodbye, Mr. C.!

added 8/4/2005 by

-- by Bill McCurdy, reprinted from The Birdhouse

The world said goodbye to Raymond Lee Cunningham on Tuesday. As a celebratory salute to the man who had been both the world’s oldest living St. Louis Cardinal and major league ballplayer until his death in Pearland, Texas on Saturday, July 30th, his public funeral service at Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery in Houston shone forth as an occasion for happily honoring a true gentleman in life - and one of the quiet unsung ambassadors of baseball.

Lee was buried Wednesday, August 3rd, among other family members in the Mesquite, Texas cemetery near Dallas.

In spite of his early start 100 years ago in North Texas, Raymond Lee Cunningham will always belong more to the Cities of St. Louis and Houston. As a Cardinal for two seasons (1931-1932), and a Houstonian for seventy years, Lee held onto his fondness for both places until the day he died.

In an open casket service, a 1934 Cardinal jersey hung to the left on an easel near Lee’s head. In tribute to the balance between Lee’s history and allegiance, a 2005 Astros cap hung from the open casket lid. – To the left of the Cardinal jersey, a table arrayed a copy of his original bat – and the actual glove that he used during his brief playing time with the Cards. – To the left of the table, and nearest to Lee’s body, stood the flowers sent by the only two baseball organizations that formally remembered Lee Cunningham in death. Appropriately, these flowers came from the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in Houston and the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Louis.

Beyond flowers, the Cardinal Birdhouse provided one of the greatest services to the Cunningham family. Copies of our reports on the entire search last year for the world’s oldest living Cardinal were prominently placed near the coffin for all visitors. Everyone attending the funeral took copies. - All who worked on the Birdhouse search project have a right to feel good about the serendipitous result. Who could’ve known last fall that our work would produce something of value to the Cunningham family on this special day?

I was humbly honored when the family invited me to speak at today’s service. What I said distills easily to this summary: Some people just make the world a better place by being here. Raymond Lee Cunningham was such a man. And we were blessed to have his presence for 100 years, 6 months, and 13 days.

Mr. C. wanted a happy funeral and his son Gary did his best to make sure it happened that way. The message transcribed under a photo of Raymond Lee Cunningham in the little written program very well summarizes how the world’s oldest former Cardinal seems to have felt about his long life coming to an end.

Memory of Me

I’d like the memory of me

to be a happy one.

I’d like to leave an afterglow

of smiles when life is done.

I’d like to leave an echo

Whispering softly down the ways,

of happy times and laughing times,

and bright and sunny days.

I’d like the tears of those who grieve,

To dry before the sun,

with all of the happy memories

that I leave when my life is done.

The soul of the ancient Cardinal took wing in the summer sunshine yesterday – and flew away into the deep blue sky of forever.

Goodbye, Mr. C., and thanks for all the smiles you brought our way!