As part of a faith-based social justice ministry, Cris played a sustaining role for many movement activists and groups.
AUSTIN — Cris Cunningham died on June 23, 2017, in Damariscotta, Maine, from complications of Parkinson’s. She was director of the University of Texas YMCA for many years, making that space available to The Rag for its office, to documentary photographer Alan Pogue for his darkroom, to the Birth Control Counseling Project started by women on the Rag staff, to the peer counseling project WomenSpace, and to other worthy causes.
Cris was born Alice Kresensky on July 14, 1935 in Iowa. She graduated from the College of Wooster in Ohio with a B.A. in 1957 and continued postgraduate studies at New College Divinity School in Edinburgh, Scotland. She received a Master’s degree in Religious Education from New York’s Union Theological Seminary. She had an internship in India from 1961 to 1964 before moving to Austin to work with the Presbyterian Campus Ministries. In Austin, she met and married movement attorney Cam Cunningham, and they had two children, Ian and Elizabeth.
Cris was part of a faith-based social justice ministry. Like the director of the Y before her, and like Rev. Bob Breihan of the Methodist Student Center, Cris made space available to the growing social justice movement of the ’60s and ’70s. Quiet, gracious, talented musically and artistically, Cris rarely assumed center stage. She served an essential sustaining role in the lives of so many movement activists and organizations. Unfortunately, the left frequently fails to recognize its quiet heroines like Cris.
I knew Cris as a member of early women’s liberation actions.
I knew Cris as a member of early women’s liberation actions. I have a photo from a 1970 women’s celebration in the church basement that went on to house the People’s Community Clinic. Cris was also a founding member of the Women’s Health Organization, an Austin group similar in purpose to the Boston Women’s Health Collective, publishers of Our Bodies, Ourselves.
As the chairperson of the Public Affairs Forum of the First Unitarian Universalist Church, she continued to provide space for discussion of social justice concerns for many years after she left the “Y.” As televised panels, these forums have documented decades of activist history.
At a 50th college reunion, Cris met Tom Justice, who would be her partner in later life. They would spend half a year in Austin and the other half in Maine. She died peacefully in Maine with Tom by her side.
A memorial service and reception will be held for Cris at 3:00 p.m. on July 15, 2017, at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin at 4700 Grover Ave., Austin, Texas 78756. Donations can be made to the Public Affairs Forum at the First UU Church in memory of Cris Cunningham. Donations can also be made in her memory to Power for Parkinsons.
- Read more articles by Alice Embree on The Rag Blog.
[Rag Blog contributor Alice Embree is an editor of the book, Celebrating The Rag: Austin’s Iconic Underground Newspaper. Alice is a long-time Austin activist, organizer, and member of the Texas State Employees Union.]