Widow turns fallen JSO lieutenant’s unfinished project into a memorial

Lt. Chris Cunningham died after contracting COVID-19 while on the job

Another surge in coronavirus cases nationwide during Thanksgiving is keeping many people from seeing loved ones in person. But one local woman’s story is providing a new perspective on the holiday.

Lisa Cunningham’s husband, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Lt. Chris Cunningham, was the first Jacksonville police officer to die after contracting COVID-19 while on the job. She honored his birthday on Monday by completing a project he started but never got to enjoy.

Lisa Cunningham said the homemade garage behind her home would have been her husband’s refuge -- a place for him to relax. She said he was excited to someday use it to refurbish old cars and have it built by his birthday -- Nov. 23.

“This entire area is what Chris built,” Lisa Cunningham told News4Jax. “He was so proud of it.”

Lisa Cunningham explained JSO Lt. Chris Cunningham's badge number is on the building.
Lisa Cunningham explained JSO Lt. Chris Cunningham's badge number is on the building. (WJXT)

Lisa Cunningham said that when his death rendered that dream useless, she finished his project by his birthday, making it, instead, a memorial encompassing his accolades and all the tributes she and her family received locally and abroad when he died in August after weeks of battling COVID-19.

“I built a memorial around it because he was in the midst of cutting the last brick when a lot of guys were getting sick in his office of COVID-19 and he got sick,” Lisa Cunningham said.

A celebration of Chris Cunningham’s life was held days after his death. Colleagues and the community lined the streets to salute the Navy veteran and 22-year JSO veteran.

As frustrations run high amid the coronavirus pandemic, with social distancing separating so many people from their loved ones, Lisa Cunningham said that she’s thankful for all those who have helped keep memories of her husband so close this holiday.

“Well wishes from every law enforcement office you can think of, CEOs of companies, agencies, handwritten to me personalized, their grief, their sadness that he passed away from COVID -- it is only, it is only their heartfelt messages -- I promise you -- that has gotten me by,” she said.

Lisa Cunningham’s husband died on Aug. 5 -- her birthday. So ironically, she now has a service dog named Christopher who happened to have been born on Aug. 5.

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