Cover photo for Colette Cunningham's Obituary
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1932 Colette 2024

Colette Cunningham

July 9, 1932 — April 22, 2024

Newport, RI

Colette L. Cunningham, M.D., peacefully, softly surrounded by her eight children at home, saw her final sunrise and felt the last soft rain of life as it is now, on Monday April 22, 2024. Dr. Cunningham began her journey in the busy seaside town of Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, born July 9, 1932. She was the second of seven vibrant children of Edward Austin Kieran, D.D.M. and Mary (Hoey) Kieran, R.N. Dr. Cunningham often longed for the Cooley Mountains, lush green fields, and peaceful quiet ways of life in Ireland. She often told of her time in Blackrock, where, as a child, she harvested mussels with her father along the shores of the Irish Sea. She was an avid tennis player growing up, and none of her children could return her serve, even well into the later years of her beautiful life. She always had her dance card filled at local dances growing up in Dundalk. Marching to the beat of her own drum from youth, yet not frequently by design, she often gave the locals, wherever she glided, something to talk about. Sent to boarding school as a teenager, she began university at the tender age of sixteen and graduated from University College Dublin Medical School, Ireland. Sailing a Holland American Line from Ireland to New York, she continued to an American residency training in New Rochelle, NY and Board eligibility in both Anesthesia and Neuropsychiatry. Dr. Cunningham previously served as the Medical Director of the Newport County Mental Health Clinic, together with staff privileges at Newport Hospital in both Internal Medicine and Psychiatry, during which time she was also on the Consulting Staff of South County Hospital and Butler Hospital. During her residency in New York, she met Edward A. Cunningham, Jr. soon after his return from the Korean War, where he served as a U.S. Marine. Together, they had nine children. After their marriage September 27th, 1957 they settled in the Bronx, NY to begin their family life. As children started arriving annually from 1958 onward it eventually became necessary by 1963 to find a larger home in Westchester County, NY in the town of Purdy's NY. In 1965, with two more children in tow, a move to a larger home became necessary, this time to Lake Mahopac, NY, where Dr. Cunningham taught some of her children to swim. Better economic opportunities eventually led to moving their household of then seven children to Newport, R.I. in the summer of 1967. Throughout their family life they enjoyed the outdoors and frequent trips to the Adirondacks to swim, fish, hunt, and gather with family, singing Coming 'Round the Mountain as they drove the long drive to Long Lake NY with family dog at their feet. Dr. Cunningham often hosted large parties at their home on Old Beach Road and kept a caring eye on her then neighbor Mrs. Baker, who often looked out the window at many-an-amusing frame: horses, a goat, chickens, and other animals creating unexpected country scenes, or the time when Dr. Cohen and his brother graciously assisted when the horses escaped for a splash at First Beach, kindly riding them home. But when she lost her three-week-old son Liam J. Cunningham to a heart defect in 1971, Dr. Cunningham detached from hospital practice, and began a private psychiatric practice in her home, in order to meet the progressive duties of motherhood and eight children. In 1975, she separated and eventually divorced from her first husband Eddie Cunningham. In time, she remarried retired Naval Chief Petty Officer Walter J. Austin, a devoted steady presence in her and her family's lives until his death in 1995. While she was married to Mr. Austin, they moved to Togus, Maine where Dr. Cunningham worked in the Veteran's Hospital for two years, after which returning to Newport. Dr. Cunningham remained curious throughout her life, savoring joyful moments, yet seeking answers to life's most troubling dilemmas. When greeted with new information, after sometimes shredding it to pieces, she accepted those parts that made sense to her with an endearing humility. She began an in-depth study of the Bible in 1978 over the course of ten years, examining various religions and philosophies along the way. During this time she also continued to work at a grass roots level volunteering her time to assist those with substance abuse problems on Aquidneck Island. Seeking a more grounded way of life, she returned to Ireland in 1987. During those years, Dr. Cunningham also volunteered as part of a Christian ministry with individuals with substance abuse struggles in County Louth, Ireland, as well as serving the needs of the underprivileged. In October 1988, she dedicated her life to God and was baptized as one of Jehovah's Witnesses in Navan, Ireland. She became well known for sharing her Christian hope on both shores. After 2000, Dr. Cunningham returned to the US and continued her ministry volunteering support to individuals from Newport County, also being certified as a Life Fellow of the American Board of Holistic and Preventative Medicine.

As some of Dr. Cunningham's loved ones in Ireland say: "An rud is annamh is iontach"-the thing that is seldom, is wonderful. Dr. Cunningham's full life was seldom simple, yet wonderful nevertheless. She daily prayed for her family and friends to be blessed with a uniting bond of peace She looked forward to the time when death will be no more, when she would see her son Liam and other loved ones again, when we live life as we were designed to, something only God's heavenly kingdom which so many pray for, will accomplish. This is a hope she held dear to her heart. Her friend and poet in Dundalk, Ireland, wrote in a poem called "Colette", "Harsh winds blew...frost traced its icy fingers. And you traveled urban streets...spreading your message and belief with understanding and hope. I see you now in your Aran coat and winter woolen garb. And your courageous smile...And the hope that shone on your face. And the perseverance in your footfall..." (Caitlin O'Conluain).

In other cherished words, "...but come ye back, when summers in the meadow. Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow..." for we'll be here, in sunshine or in shadow, to love you forever, our mother dear.

Dr. Cunningham is survived by her eight children: Eamonn A. Cunningham, Newport, RI , Kieran G. Cunningham, Newport, RI, Catriona M. St. George and husband Roland, Little Compton, RI, Brigid A. Cunningham and husband Chris Venti, Wickford, RI & Connecticut, Cormac J. Cunningham, Newport, RI, Moira G. Maloney-Cunningham, Portsmouth, RI, Siobhán H. Kern and her husband Günter, Jr., Westport, MA, Áine L. Smutzer and her husband Chad, Westford, MA. Dr. Cunningham was predeceased by her beloved son Liam Joseph Cunningham, granddaughter Ruairi Cunningham, siblings Ann Corcoran (England), Edward Kieran (Ireland), Olive Kieran (Ireland), Mary Rourke (England), and Briege Finnegan (Ireland), and her two husbands Edward A Cunningham Jr. and Walter J Austin. Dr. Cunningham is also survived by her brother Liam Kieran (Blackrock, County Louth, Ireland), 15 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren.

The family would like to send very special love and thanks to Dr. Cunningham's caregivers: Tara, Maggie, Raija, and Paul who became family during this tender time.

Family and friends are warmly invited to attend calling hours which will be held Friday, May 3, from 4:00pm to 8:00pm at Memorial Funeral Home, 375 Broadway, Newport.

A memorial talk will be held on Saturday, May 4, at 12:00 Noon in the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witness, 36 Hillside Ave, Newport. A procession to the cemetery will begin at 1:30pm from Memorial Funeral Home to St. Columba Cemetery, Middletown, RI.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Visting Nurse and Home & Hospice https://visitingnursehh.org/

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Colette Cunningham, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Visiting Hours

Friday, May 3, 2024

4:00 - 8:00 pm

Memorial Funeral Home

375 Broadway, Newport, RI 02840

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Memorial Service

Saturday, May 4, 2024

11:45am - 1:00 pm

Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall

36 Hillside Ave., Newport, RI 02840

To join on zoom:
Meeting ID: 875.5255.8793
PW: 348788

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