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remembering Noel Cunningham: “a virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones”

In the earliest days of Share Our Strength, one of the great forces in our growth, perhaps the greatest, was Noel Cunningham, a Denver chef and restaurateur who died suddenly yesterday at 62. He was instrumental in the creation of Taste of the Nation, served on our national board of directors for many years, traveled to Ethiopia with us, and pushed us hard to be the best we could be.

More than 10 years ago I devoted part of a chapter to Noel in The Cathedral Within, explaining that his power came from his vision and his commitment to remain true to it no matter how naïve it might seem or how uncomfortable it may make others. He was the first truly “unreasonable man” in the best sense of the word, that I’d ever met, and no one else has ever come close.

In the book I wrote: “Noel’s goodness is not always practical, but it is always authentic, and this authenticity moves people further than anyone would have guessed they were capable of being moved…. It’s so real, so undeniable, that it compels others to believe that there must be at least some of that same goodness in themselves, and thereby compels them to the same actions as Noel’s. His impact on people is similar to Billy Budd’s as described by Herman Melville: “A virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones.”

From Denver to Addis Ababa, and everywhere in between, Noel will be deeply missed.

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