John Charles Cunniffe, 46, of South Salem, N.Y. died on Sunday, Dec. 2 after a courageous battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). John was a graduate of John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y. and while there earned All-American honors in lacrosse. To this day, John still holds the record for single-season points and single season assists. After graduating, he went on to earn a degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point. John was stationed in Bamberg, Germany where he fell in love with the culture and beauty of the country. An avid skier, John spent every weekend ripping down the Autobahn to ski in Kitzbuhel, Austria. He traveled extensively throughout Europe, even running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain four times. John served in Operation Desert Storm, receiving numerous commendations and medals, including a Bronze Star for Meritorious Service.
John was a member of the Executive Board of Directors for John Jay Youth Lacrosse, and by volunteering his time as a coach, forged many positive relationships along the way. He began coaching lacrosse before his own children were old enough to participate. Recently, John began to coach his son’s recreation basketball team. Although it wasn’t always about getting the win, last year their team went undefeated and went on to win the championship game. He genuinely cared for all the boys he coached. John’s priority in coaching was to pass on the love of the game.
His many accomplishments pale in comparison to his major role: that of father and husband. He truly enjoyed the simple happiness of spending time with his wife and children. He was a fixture on his front lawn or the high school turf playing with his son and daughter. He was extremely proud of his children’s big and little accomplishments. He took care to make his wife feel special, taking her on special dates and many canoe rides over the years. He was also a great vacation planner, getting much pleasure out of organizing trips for his family that left no detail ignored.
John was a man of tremendous courage, drive, wisdom, and character. He did the right thing, without thinking twice. When he was diagnosed with ALS, he became actively involved in advocating for his health and the health of others, he cared for and protected his family, and he shared his resources with others. John gained a tremendous amount of insight into what was important in life, and he made sure he found good in each day. This outlook guided his family, who also took a positive approach to their attitudes in how they endured the journey of ALS together. John’s positive attitude toward his disease affected all those around him. He showed people how much good could come out of something that seemed so bad.
The Cunniffe family is eternally grateful for the compassionate help they received from so many people in so many ways. The Lewisboro community is an extremely special place; John was very touched by the show of support, care and concern he received from so many people, stretching from the youngest of the young to the parents of his friends. They are also so very grateful to the John Jay varsity lacrosse teams, past and present; John Jay Athletic Director Christian McCarthy and boys varsity lacrosse coaches Tim Schurr and Geoff Nolan, who made sure John could be a part of each game as his disease progressed; John Jay Youth Lacrosse; those at U.S. Lacrosse, PrimeTime Lacrosse, and others affiliated with the game; the West Point community; Lewisboro Parks & Recreation; Lewisboro Volunteer Ambulance Corps; the South Salem Fire Department; Dr. Huned Patwa and staff at the West Haven, Conn., VA; Dr. Lisa Bardack and staff of Northern Westchester Hospital Center; his longtime friends from childhood; his brother and sister; his trusty helper, Florence; and the many friends and community members he grew close to as they assisted John and his family.
John leaves behind his wife, Melissa, and his children, Eliza and Charlie. Visiting hours are Thursday, Dec. 6, at Clark Associates Funeral Home in Katonah, N.Y. from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. A memorial mass will be held at St. Mary’s Church in Ridgefield, Conn., on Friday at 10:15 a.m. In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to ALS-related organizations, the South Salem Fire Department, and Lewisboro Volunteer Ambulance Corps in John’s name.