Noel Cunningham’s funeral was yesterday. It was an extraordinary tribute to a private citizen who had developed such a devoted public following. St John’s Cathedral had an enormous standing room only crowd, that included Noel’s brother, sister and twin daughters, the mayor, Governor Hickenlooper, U.S. Senator Michael Bennett, former Senator Gary Hart, a number of Ethiopians, and close to a thousand Coloradans, virtually every one of whom Noel had roped into one good cause or another. Generations of Taste of the Nation organizers and Cooking Matters volunteers found themselves together under one roof for the first time.
Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter gave the eulogy, which like all of the newspaper articles over the past week was filled with references to Share Our Strength, Noel’s anti-hunger work from Denver to Ethiopia, and Noel’s endearingly unique combination of relentless persistence and utter selflessness.
In the days just before the funeral Noel’s family revealed that Noel had taken his own life. This stunned the community to a degree I can’t begin to describe but I’m sure you can imagine. Toward the end of his remarks Governor Ritter addressed this directly and tenderly, giving comfort to many in convincingly arguing that Noel could not have intended to hurt anyone but that some unknown and unknowable desperation made it impossible for him to hear or see the many friends who would have sought to help him.
After the service everyone in the church was invited back to Noel’s restaurant Strings for a reception that included Noel’s favorite dishes. And it seemed like everyone showed up. Bagpipes played Amazing Grace while we ate and thought about what the minister had said at one point in the service: that while Noel was truly irreplaceable, his deeds were not, and those deeds remain to be embraced and carried out by each and every one of us.