'Doc' Cunningham, who helped shape Pinellas, dies

Published April 15, 2007

INVERNESS - William Webster "Doc" Cunningham was proud of his family's historic lineage, but he never boasted about the Cunninghams' role in shaping Pinellas County.

Instead, the son of Howard E. Cunningham, one of six brothers to open the Cunningham Bros. Hardware Store in St. Petersburg in 1924, was a playful, humble man who loved telling stories and spending time with animals.

Mr. Cunningham, of Inverness, formerly of Seminole, died at Citrus Memorial Hospital on Thursday (April 12, 2007). He was 86.

A retired veterinarian, Mr. Cunningham was the last of the three brothers who founded Seminole Lake Country Club. His two older brothers were Howard "Gene" Cunningham and Lemuel "Book" Cunningham.

"They were a low-key family. They just sort of enjoyed what they had and were not patting themselves on the back all the time," said Nancy Cunningham, Mr. Cunningham's wife of 31 years.

In the year before Pinellas County was founded, when the land west of Tampa Bay was still part of Hillsborough County and trips to Tampa involved difficult wagon trails over marshy lands, Alrie and William Cunningham moved to St. Petersburg from Fletcher, N.C., with the four youngest of their eight children, one horse and a boxcar of belongings in 1911.

The next year, William Cunningham died, but by then all eight children - six boys and two girls - had moved to St. Petersburg.

The six brothers founded the hardware and grocery store in 1924 and operated it on Central Avenue between Eighth and Ninth streets until 1956.

In the 1930s, Howard Cunningham bought approximately 300 acres of land along Cross Bayou in Seminole. He and his brothers converted the property into the Seminole Lake Country Club.

Mr. Cunningham attended St. Petersburg High School and graduated from Riverside Military Academy. He graduated from Auburn University.

During World War II, he was the combat liaison officer in the Chinese 50th Division in China and Burma. He returned to the United States in 1947 as a captain and practiced veterinary medicine in Lakeland and Seminole for 30 years.

He and his wife moved to Inverness from Seminole in 1979. He was an avid aviator and loved having a landing strip near his 20-acre home. He retired in 1981.

Mr. Cunningham will be cremated, and his ashes will be spread near the log cabin at the country club.

Survivors include his wife, a son, two daughters, two stepdaughters and two grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation at 6931 Arlington Road, Bethesda, Md. 20814.