Longtime SPI city attorney Paul York Cunningham dies

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — The only city attorney the Island has ever had passed away over the weekend.

Paul York Cunningham Jr., 74, died of pancreatic cancer on Sunday.

Cunningham was first diagnosed in October.

He fought a short, but courageous battle with the disease and focused on family and friends until he passed.

Cunningham was born on Nov. 25, 1942, in Brownsville.

He could recall traveling to the Island on a ferryboat as a child long before there was a bridge.

He became a lawyer who helped write the city charter and book of ordinances. That all paved the way to what the city of South Padre Island is today.

“Paul was the heartbeat of this community,” said Sam Listi, an Island resident and former city councilman. “His door was always open and he was always available.”

While talking about his friend, Listi was emotional during the phone interview.

“He was very upbeat about his condition,” Listi said. “He fought as hard as he could and he knew what he was facing.”

Listi recalled meeting Cunningham at his office and receiving the news from him in December that he didn’t have much more time to live.

“He was involved with the city from the day it started until now,” Listi said.

Cunningham was instrumental in incorporating the city of South Padre Island in 1973.

He served on the planning and zoning board prior to becoming the city attorney, a post he held for more than 40 years.

“He was a one-of-a-kind man and attorney,” said Bob Pinkerton, former SPI mayor. “I served 22 years with him on the council.”

Pinkerton said there was no one better to help guide the city leaders.

“He knew how to put issues and problems into perspective,” Pinkerton said. “He’s going to be missed by many.”

Pinkerton said one of Cunningham’s most important accomplishments was to help prevent the annexation of more than 19,000 acres of land Port Isabel wanted to add to its extraterritorial jurisdiction over part of the north side of Island.

“He’s done so many things for the Island,” Pinkerton said.

Cunningham also embraced his role as a counselor, providing sage advice to both his loved ones and clients.

He enjoyed traveling with his immediate and extended family and sharing new and unique experiences.

Cunningham practiced law more than 50 years and served faithfully as South Padre Island’s city attorney.

His impact was felt in the banking, municipal, business and real estate communities.

His colleagues knew him as strong-willed, fair and honest.

To commemorate Cunningham’s life and legacy, a service will be held at the Isla Grand Beach Resort on Saturday, March 4, with words from his pastor and friend Bill Waddell at 3 p.m.