Buffalo Naval Park announces passing of Colonel Patrick J. Cunningham

Buffalo Naval Park announces passing of Colonel Patrick J. Cunningham

Served as Executive Director since 1993; Captain Brian W. Roche named new director

Buffalo, N.Y. – March 24, 2017 – Colonel Patrick J. Cunningham, who spent 30 years in active military service with the U.S. Army, and served as Executive

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Colonel Patrick J. Cunningham, who served as Executive Director of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park since 1993, has died. He would have been 79 on April 1.

Director of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park since 1993, has died. He would have been 79 on April 1.

Colonel Cunningham, who grew up in Kenmore, N.Y., returned to Buffalo in 1989 after retiring from the U.S. Army, with which he held a variety of sensitive and demanding command and staff positions, including 13 years at the Pentagon. His assignments there included handling the budget for all active duty and retired Army personnel, and coordinator of new and innovative projects for the Department of Army Inspector General. His Washington tours culminated in successive assignments as Executive Officer for the Director of the Army Budget, and subsequently, the Comptroller of the Army. His last five years of active duty were spent as Garrison Commander and Chief of Staff of Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. The Colonel’s military decorations include the Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal and Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters.

“Colonel Cunningham will be remembered in Buffalo for his tireless efforts at building the Buffalo Naval Park into the wonderful education and historic attraction it is today,” said Naval Park Board Chairman Donald A. Alessi. “He was instrumental in moving the park from its former site underneath the Skyway to its beautiful current location. He spent a career in service and sacrifice to his country — and he continued that commitment throughout his retirement. His vision turned our Naval Park – which is today the largest inland Naval Park in the U.S. — into the crown jewel we have on our waterfront today.”

Colonel Cunningham’s passing comes, ironically, on the eve of the opening ceremony for the Naval Park’s 2017 season. The event, which will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the arrival of its first two ships, the USS Little Rock and USS The Sullivans, and posthumously honor the roles of three servicemen who were instrumental in the delivery of these ships to Buffalo’s Harbor, will now include a dedication of the 2017 season to the memory and spirit of Colonel Cunningham.

“Many years ago when the park was struggling financially, Colonel Cunningham used his own money to make ends meet — to literally keep us above water. And he did so without a word or expectation of thanks,” added Chairman Alessi. “Today, and for years to come, the greater Buffalo community and Western New York Veterans owe him a great deal of thanks and gratitude.”

Colonel Cunningham was a graduate of Canisius College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. He went on to earn an M.B.A. from Syracuse University in Comptrollership, in addition to completing U.S. Army Command and General Staff college.

In addition to the Naval Park, he served numerous organizations in many capacities, including past president of the Historic Naval Ships Association, Military Officers Association of Western New York, Navy League, and the New York State Council of Chapters, Military Officers Association of America. He also belonged to the Greater Niagara Frontier Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, American Legion, and Rotary Club of Buffalo. He also served as a game official for both High School basketball and football in Western New York.

He was pre-deceased by his wife of 53 years, Shelia, with whom he had five children.

The Buffalo Naval Park Board of Directors met Thursday evening and named Captain Brian W. Roche as its new Executive Director, naming Colonel Cunningham as Executive Director Emeritus in the process.

Captain Roche served for 36 years in the United States Coast Guard, rising through the ranks of Seaman Apprentice (E-2) to Captain (O-6). He is an accomplished leader and dynamic planner with unique team building skills and broad experience in fiscal management, operational execution, human resources and risk management. He came to Buffalo in 2013 as Chief Executive Officer/Sector Commander of the Coast Guard’s Sector Buffalo, were he managed 1,200 employees accomplishing missions across 540 miles of coastline, including 2,300 search and rescue efforts. He retired in 2016. His selection comes at the recommendation of Colonel Cunningham, whose declining health had been eminent.

Captain Roche most recently served as Vice President with Harkon, Inc., where he oversaw human resource doctrine development/review and international training program management. He resides in Clarence Center with his family.

To learn more about the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, including the Colonel Patrick J. Cunningham Legacy Society, visit www.buffalonavalpark.org or call (716) 847-1773.



The Buffalo and Erie County Military and Naval Park takes you inside history with incredible exhibits and displays including actual historic documents, uniforms, military gear, photographs and so much more. Its mission is to honor veterans and inspire citizens. It fosters an appreciation of the U.S. Armed Forces in the community by promoting visits to the Park and taking part in activities related directly or indirectly to military affairs. It also promotes and fosters an interest in historic Armed Forces artifacts of our nation. For those interested in supporting the Naval Park by volunteering or making a gift, please call 716-847-1773 or visit www.buffalonavalpark.org/support-us.