Home » Opinion » Letters to Editor » Letter to the Editor: Remembering Dr. Patricia Cunningham

Letter to the Editor: Remembering Dr. Patricia Cunningham

On Feb. 2, I received news that my dear friend, confidant and tireless leader for Ohio State’s unsung heroes recently passed. Many others in the university community knew Dr. Patricia Cunningham II even better than me, but large sums of Buckeyes from today and yesteryear know of Patty’s work. Although she was always a force for change and justice, the Springfield, Ohio, native witnessed her long-held visions for what “education for citizenship” really means be realized when the Social Change program was recently established in the Office of Student Life with the support of Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston. With Dr. J’s support and President Michael Drake’s focus on a more civically engaged university, Dr. Patty was able to build OSU’s program into an ever-improving national model for social change programming and student development.

The impacts of Dr. Patty’s work on the campus community, University District, countless communities across Ohio and the nation, is not only notable, it is admirable. In fact, several of us at at Eastern Kentucky University were recently discussing the idea of bringing Patty to our campus to give a Chautauqua lecture and program on student engagement, justice, girl power and women in science.

Beyond Patty’s time leading such initiatives at OSU, her work was most importantly influenced by the people she touched with her colorfully blunt approach. Through her most trying times with her health, she continued to be a mentor to countless young men and women of all backgrounds. Dr. Patty was like a big sister to me and was there for me during my time as a graduate student wrestling with the challenges of leading an organization while battling cancer with the help of The James. Nobody understood my situation while at OSU better than Dr. Patty. She was truly my big sister in this world, and she likely was that for hundreds, if not thousands, of OSU students.

For the nationally renowned Todd A. Bell National Resource Center at OSU, Dr. Patty was a mentor for countless young, black, male students who in many cases needed someone a little older and wiser who was like family, who could give tough love, and who helped them understand how to navigate the more than 62,000 student campus without giving up their identity. As a graduate student, Dr. Patty was a mentor and adviser to many, including the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, a brotherhood founded to provide opportunities for Jewish men.

Patty gave people hope. Patty gave young folks inspiration. Patty observed in people what nobody else could see. No matter if she was working in downtown Columbus, or Youngstown or in the hills and hollers of Appalachia in Vinton County, Patty listened to people. Patty cared about people and she would reignite visions for people’s lives that may have vanished in their childhood years. Patty most importantly went to those blessed by circumstance to be the leaders of our university — student leaders, faculty leaders, staff leaders, trustees, vice presidents, university presidents and many more. She routinely challenged these leaders in an unvarnished but still classy fashion to think about how their actions in life impact or may impact others — especially those sometimes lacking a voice. Patty was the voice for students lacking collective voice and sometimes not part of prestigious campus organizations. Patty taught her students how to have a voice and how they ought to give others a voice.

No matter when or where I was around Patty, countless young men and women of all ages, positions, or conditions, would be sure to come by and say hello or often “thank you.” Any evening at Mad Mex, in the Gateway, when she might be there, folks would be coming in off High Street just to drop in and say hello. Everywhere — the Ohio Union, the Hale Center, the Oval — everyone seemed to know Patty.

When people would openly say “thank you” to Patty years before her illness, I never knew exactly what they were thanking her for at any moment, but I had a suspicion that the “thank you” was likely related to how Patty ultimately gave them a purpose in this world by lighting a fire in them where the fuel for good existed.

Despite all the positive action on society’s most challenging issues, Patty always knew how to temper the seriousness of her daily work with a great time — with sock puppets, poetry, dance, karaoke or just a great party. Patty led our Council of Graduate Students’ social planning and events for years and much of our success at that time in the mid-to-late 2000s was because we were a large group of students who could have a good time over food and drink. Patty was all about connecting folks together. She understood the power of the person is enhanced by the power of people. As a personal note from my heart, the OSU community, Ohio, the nation and the world recently lost this true force for good and this fierce advocate for social justice with the passing of the original PhDiva, Dr. Patty Jr.  I am, and forever will be, grateful for the light of Dr. Patty Cunningham that still shines on in this world, in the way a beautiful candle can flicker out only after lighting tens of thousands of other scarlet and gray candles, all burning brightly with hope and love.

Ultimately, I know I have been changed, and the Angels in heaven gonna have a “soiree.” Patty will be missed, but her work must march on.

How firm thy friendship,

Jason Marion
Ohio State ’10, ’11
Associate professor, Eastern Kentucky University


  1. Thank you Jason, for your story and your tribute. Her work absolutely must continue.

    • Thank you Lucy, although I feel my own writing and understanding to still be inadequate for the tribute she deserves. I do hope her life is more fully captured so future generations can know her story since so many will be impacted by those who have been touched by her actions for a better and more just world. “Her work absolutely must continue”

  2. Thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute, to our beautiful friend. She left an army of good doers behind her, and it’s up to us to continue the fight.

  3. Praise from Jason Marion should not be taken lightly.
    Patty was all that and more. She touched so many.
    Thanks Jason!

    • Thank you Kate – she deserves so much more than this praise. It’s hard to imagine OSU and life without knowing Patty is changing lives. I only wish I was able to visit her more during this last year…

  4. This is a heartbreaking and shattering loss for all of us who knew Patty as the beating heart of Ohio State’s social justice community. I can vividly picture her doing her thing – educating, inspiring, and connecting. I can close my eyes and hear her extolling the virtues of “being awkward” to prevent sexual assault in Browning Amphitheatre. Like so many, I was inspired by Patty. Like so many, I feel deeply the hurt of this loss. Most of all, I am sorry for the generations of Buckeyes who will never get to know her or experience her passion.

    Thank you for your powerful example, Patty. You’ll be deeply missed.

  5. Diane Horvath-Cosper

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute to my sister-friend. In our grief, it’s helpful to be reminded that her light shines on in the people she loved so dearly.

  6. Alexandra Franceschini

    There are few forces in the world with more impact than Patty. Thank you for your eloquence, Jason. We will continue the hard, messy work she trained us for, and all in her memory.

  7. Thank you for this acknowledgment of my dear cousin, who we called “Peaches”. She was an amazing person.

    • Thank you Demica – she deserves so much more than what is here and what could go in writing. Your cousin forever changed Ohio State and so many lives forever. I cannot imagine how many people have been directly and indirectly impacted through her life…

  8. I took Dr. Patty’s “women leadership” class during my last semester at OSU (this was Jan-May 2015). It was a short ‘slumber party’ every monday night, where we reconnected with our past, and bonded with each other and we learned about ourselves and each other. I will never forget what Dr. Patty said to me once: “I want to live a life where I’m exhausted at the end; where I knew I did everything I could.” She definitely lived that way and I am glad I met her during my lifetime, because i have since adopted and shared her life philosophy. Dr. Patty will forever be in my heart.

  9. Very sorry to hear about Patty’s passing. She was a larger-than-life personality who I felt very fortunate to meet during my time at Ohio State. Jason is right — she had a gift for recognizing potential in others, and holding their feet to the flames when they weren’t living up to it. The university will sorely miss such a tireless advocate and friend to many.

  10. I met Patty couple of years ago in Columbus. I am from Paris and i was visiting my best friend place. What she gave me is unforgettable and unmeasurable. I owe her a lot. I would love to say her thanks again. Her leadership and kindness will always stay in my heart and mind. I lost a friend and this is a heartbreaking moment for me. Rest in Peace “Peaches”. Pape

  11. The main thing is that this time passed not in vain and you wrote so many interesting things

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