Bound for Brody
Portrait captures Cunningham as surgeon
By Doug Boyd
ECU News Services
A portrait of Dr. Paul Cunningham standing in his office and wearing surgical scrubs will soon hang in the lobby of the Brody Medical Sciences Building.
A surgeon by training, Cunningham was named the fifth dean of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in 2008. His likeness will join those of the deans who preceded him and that of the late Chancellor Leo Jenkins, who spearheaded the creation of the medical school.
“This is a warning to the faculty: This is what you get when you become a dean,” Cunningham quipped after unveiling the portrait with his wife, Sydney, ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard and Dr. Phyllis Horns, ECU vice chancellor for health sciences. The unveiling took place Wednesday at the Brody Building.
Afterward, Cunningham said he was honored by the occasion and the attention.
“The real reason for us all to have gathered was to celebrate the legacy of leadership that has supported the work of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University since its inception,” he said. “It is inspiring to once again sense the strong and passionate support for the work and mission of the school.”
Approximately 30 years ago, Dr. Walter Pories persuaded Cunningham to drive about 50 miles from his practice in the rural town of Windsor to teach a few classes at ECU. “To the embarrassment of the faculty, he quickly became the most popular teacher,” Pories said.
Pories, who at the time was chair of surgery at ECU, then hired him to be a full-time faculty member. Cunningham began at ECU as a general surgeon, then took on transplant surgery, bariatric surgery and trauma surgery.
“One of the reasons he’s such as good dean is he’s a superb doctor,” Pories said.
Cunningham left ECU in 2002 to become chair of surgery at State University of New York-Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y. He remained there until returning to ECU.
The portrait also shows a photo of the Cunninghams’ four children.
One day while walking, Cunningham and his wife talked about what he should look like in the portrait.
“I asked him, ‘Who do you feel you are at your core?'” said Sydney Cunningham. “He thought about it for a second and said, ‘I’m a surgeon.’
“I said, ‘Well, you ought to wear your scrubs,'” she said.
Seeing the painting for the first time brought tears to her eyes, she said, “because it depicts who Paul is. He’s a healer, a generous soul and a kind, kind person and a remarkable surgeon.”
The portrait was painted by Irene Bailey of Emerald Isle, an award-winning artist and ECU graduate. Eighteen of her portraits hang at ECU, along with other works of art by her.