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Friday, July 04, 2003

Former Westporter Briggs Swift Cunningham, Noted Racer, Dies at 96

Former Westporter Briggs Swift Cunningham Jr., the captain of the winning yacht in the 1958 America’s Cup and a longtime sports car racing figure, has died. He was 96.

Cunningham died Wednesday at home in Las Vegas from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, said his wife, Laura Cunningham.

Cunningham lived in Westport for many years before moving to California in the 1960s and then to Nevada in 1999.

His survivors include daughter Lucie McKinney of Westport, widow of Stewart B. McKinney,  the Republican congressman who represented the area for 17 years before his death in 1987.

Cunningham’s first wife was the former Lucie Bedford, daughter of Standard Oil heir Frederick T. Bedford, who died in 1963.

Now Lucie Bedford Cunningham Warren, she continues to live in Westport as does her sister Ruth Thomas Bedford.

The Bedford family has a long history of philanthropy in Westport, having donated substantial amounts of real estate and development funds to build the YMCA and schools.

Cunningham pursued yachting and auto racing with a fortune inherited from his father, a wealthy Cincinnati financier and early investor in Procter & Gamble.

He was the captain of Columbia when it won the America’s Cup.

Later, he was active in competitive sailing at Westport’s Cedar Point Yacht Club and the Pequot Yacht Club in Fairfield.

Fellow yachtsmen recall the lavish parties Cunnigham threw at his Green’s Farms area home following the races.  They often included bagpipers, in accord with his Scottish heritage.

He helped found the Sports Car Club of America and the Automobile Racing Club of America.

His name became part of sailing terminology through his 1958 invention of the “cunningham,” a line controlling sail tension.

Other survivors include a son, Briggs Cunningham III, of Danville, Ky., and daughter Cythlen Maddock, of Palm Beach, Fla.

A funeral is scheduled Aug. 8 in Corona Del Mar, Calif.


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