Thomas Cunningham, 71, longtime egg delivery man


Thomas Martin Cunningham, who spent nearly 60 years delivering eggs to homes and neighborhood stores throughout Baltimore and Baltimore County, died of a heart attack Monday at his Towson residence. He was 71.

Family members said that Mr. Cunningham had been delivering eggs since the age of 12. He died in the early afternoon after completing his usual morning circuit selling eggs.

Born in Baltimore and raised in the Hamilton and Baynesville neighborhoods, Mr. Cunningham started selling eggs when his father, a milkman who also had an egg business, died of leukemia at 41, leaving a wife and seven children.

Mr. Cunningham and two of his brothers sold eggs door to door to support the family. After graduating from Towson Catholic High School in 1952, he went into the business full time. He found chicken farms in Baltimore County and southern York County, Pa., where he purchased the eggs.

Family members said he candled them -- held the eggs up to a light to detect imperfections -- and sorted them by grade, from peewee and pullet to extra large. Once he had boxed the eggs, he loaded them into a Chevrolet step van and fanned out across the city and county.

"He was probably the last of fresh-egg deliverers," said Charles E. Hergenroeder Sr., an owner of his family's Woodlea Bakery on Belair Road. "He had good shell eggs, the kind that bakers liked before the present-day government regulations where everything has to be pasteurized."

Mr. Cunningham's set routes took in a wide swath of Baltimore neighborhoods each day, as he rang doorbells or shouted out, "Egg man!"

"I can see him running up and down the marble steps of Collington Avenue," said a nephew, David Cunningham, who helped on the truck years ago.

In the summer, Mr. Cunningham would rise early to buy corn and cantaloupes from Baltimore County farmers, which he sold to his city customers.

"His customers appreciated the egg man who would deliver more than just eggs," said a son, Thomas V. Cunningham of Ellicott City. "They appreciated his advice, his tendency to do small chores, and his affinity for good conversation."

He said his father treated the route like a ministry: "He spent time with each of his customers and he often acted like a social worker. He had time to listen to the lonely, the homebound and the bedridden."

For several years beginning in 1993, he supplemented the egg delivery business by driving a school bus for Baltimore County. He also was a Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland volunteer one day a week.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. tomorrow at St. Ursula Roman Catholic Church, 8801 Harford Road, where he was a Eucharistic minister.

Survivors also include his wife of 38 years, the former Dottie Rose Zito; three other sons, Kelly M. Cunningham and Robert A. Cunningham, both of Dallastown, Pa., and Shannon P. Cunningham of Parkville; a daughter, Dr. Beth Cunningham of Ellicott City; a brother, Joseph Cunningham of Stewartstown, Pa.; four sisters, Sally Liles, Irene Gabriel, Mary Jane Hellman and Ann Baur, all of Baltimore; and 11 grandchildren. A son, Martin Joseph Cunningham, died in 1969.

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