Yesterday was a difficult and sad day at IAVM with word received of the passing of two of the greatest men to serve in the history of the public assembly venue industry and within the Association in Ray Ward, CVE, and William “Bill” Cunningham, CVE.
Ray Ward passed away on May 2 while Bill Cunningham passed on May 8. Ward served as an assistant to Cunningham and eventually followed Cunningham in guiding the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Cunningham served as president of IAAM (as both were known at the time) in 1973-74 while Ward held the reins in 1988-89. They were both in their positions in Oakland at the time they served as the top volunteer leaders in the Association.
Both share a massive list of accomplishments within the industry. For brevity at this time, Ward’s legacy will carry on after the establishment of the Ray Ward Award bestowed annually at his beloved Venue Management School at Oglebay Park. The award recognizes an individual associated with VMS whose dedicated service and extraordinary contributions over a period of at least six years have resulted in significant and long lasting improvements to the overall success and quality of the school. The award was created and initially presented to Ward in August 1996. Those who have earned the award over the years cite Ward in their remarks for his contributions to the school and the industry.
Cunningham began his industry career in 1957 as an assistant director at the Philadelphia Trade & Convention Center before moving to Oakland in 1964 to help open the Coliseum. He was among the first 27 recipients to receive the newly created Certified Facilities Executive (now Certified Venue Executive) designation in 1976. In an article that appeared in Facility Manager magazine, Cunningham cited as his most tangible accomplishment during his term as president the publication of the Industry Profile Survey, a compilation of the most comprehensive statistical analysis ever published in the public assembly field.
Those who knew the icons best expressed their sadness upon hearing the news.
“Bill was simply a mentor beyond mentors while Ray was another dear, dear friend,” said Cliff Wallace, CVE, who served as Association president in 1984-85. “Goodness, a tough day.”
Mike Kobluk, Association president in 1990-91, said upon receiving the news about Cunningham that, “Bill was a fine gentleman, an ultimate professional with a wonderful sense of humor. In many ways I considered him to be a major part of the backbone of our industry, one who was always willing to share his thoughts, ideas, and procedures, and was always there when you needed answers or just a smile and a word of encouragement. Though I haven’t been in contact with Bill since my retirement from the industry some years ago, I will always have fond memories of my times with Bill.”
While I did not personally know Cunningham, I certainly knew of him from what his friends shared throughout the years about a man almost bigger than life. In this profession, it is safe to say that he was larger than life.
Ray Ward will always be memorable to me for not just occasionally calling to the office to tell me that I was doing a good job with the magazine, but for his presence at VenueConnect in the later years of his life when he used a cane to walk around. While many utilize the benefit of networking at the annual conference, Ward would do that, but he was also always a constant presence on the front row of education sessions, a man who by example proved you are never to old to want to learn.
With the news of the passing of Ray Ward and Bill Cunningham fresh, we will update with information about services, memorials, and donations as they become available in the next few days, along with additional comments from industry colleagues and friends.