April 3, 1931 – July 15, 2014
William J. Cunningham Jr., the Buffalo attorney who obtained the first legal settlement for a widow of an employee killed during the retaking of Attica State Prison during the 1971 uprising, died July 15 at a health care facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., following a short illness. He was 83.
Mr. Cunningham, a Buffalo native and graduate of Bennett High School, received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Maryland.
He served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1955.
He and a friend began a law practice in Buffalo as Cunningham & Cole, which later became Cunningham, Cole, Sorrentino & Cavanaugh. In the 1970s, he started his own firm, which grew into Cunningham, Pares & Renda. He returned to sole practice in the mid-1980s before retiring in the 1990s.
Mr. Cunningham represented Lynda Tolliver Jones in her claim against New York State after her husband, Herbert Jones, a civilian bookkeeper at Attica, was killed in the 1971 uprising. Jones was one of 43 people – 11 prison employees and 32 inmates – who died in Attica, most of them shot when law enforcement officers stormed the prison.
The Court of Claims awarded Jones’ widow $550,000 in 1982, the first settlement involving the family of a hostage who died in the assault.
Mr. Cunningham also served as the Alden town attorney and as public administrator of Erie County Surrogate’s Court during the term of Judge Joseph Mattina.
After retiring to Jensen Beach, Fla., Mr. Cunningham volunteered as a teacher in an English as a second language program, purchased a travel agency and enjoyed traveling with his wife, Christine.
He was on the board of the Statler Foundation and also maintained his status as an avid fan of the Buffalo Bills.
Besides his wife, he is survived by four daughters, Elizabeth Wasiak, Mary Cunningham, Maureen Stewart and Ann Olszowka; two sons, Bill III and Michael; two sisters, Catherine Burns and Helen Becker; and eight grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in St. Benedict Catholic Church, 1317 Eggert Road at Main Street, Eggertsville.