Deeply admired Wyndham Vale greyhound racing stalwart William “Billy” Cunningham has died, aged 90.
Cunningham passed away peacefully at home last Thursday.
A former manager at the Footscray Baths, Cunningham took the plunge into greyhound racing in his mid-40s following the passing of his wife, Lorraine, in 1977.
An immensely popular figure, Cunningham forged many lifetime friendships in the sport – particularly the likes of Ron Dunne, William and Sheila Donlon, and the late Gary Brett.
His eldest granddaughter, Melissa Harndem, paid an emotional tribute to her much-loved grandfather.
“No one had a bad word about him. He was a beautiful man; he loved his family and was passionate about his greyhounds, which he treated like his kids.
“As a teenager, I caught his greyhounds at various tracks and always received a Coke and a pie – that was my reward.”
St Albans trainer Ron Dunne said Cunningham was a “terrific bloke”.
“You couldn’t meet a better person; he’d do anything for anyone.
“He got me into greyhound racing in the mid-’80s. In fact, I gave him my first two greyhounds to train.
“I was a barman at the Belgravia Hotel in Footscray, and he managed the local baths. He’d drop in for a drink occasionally and we’d start talking greyhounds.”
Dunne added that Cunningham was very close to owning dual Australian Cup winner, China Trip.
“I think he helped her breeder-trainer (Gary Ball) and eventual owner (Helen Gorman) with a stud fee (to Brother Fox) and received first pick of the litter.
“A little fawn female pup (China Trip) came up and licked him, but he was talked into selecting a male pup.”
Dunne said Cunningham “loved greyhounds and meeting people”.
“In his early days of training, his favourite greyhound was Blanche Moore (named after a cargo ship built in Liverpool for England-India trade).
“He always had a smile on his face; he just loved life. He was a pleasure to be with.
“And his dogs were like his kids, they were fed better than him.”
Burnbank’s Sheila and William Donlon were close friends with Cunningham for around 20 years.
“We were introduced to Billy by a friend. We first went coursing with him at Werribee.
“He was a very kind, gentle man. He was very giving and was so helpful to us when we started in the sport.
“Billy had a big family and was dearly loved by all of them. He never differentiated between people he knew and those he didn’t.”
A much-loved family man, Cunningham is survived by his daughter, Joy, and son, Keith – along with 11 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. (Another son, Kevin, is deceased.)
The funeral for William “Billy” Cunningham will be held at Fawkner Cemetery – Crick Chapel – on Wednesday, December 28 at 1pm.