Robert T. Cunningham, who guided the Massachusetts Republican Party to its most successful election cycle in decades in 2014 before becoming director of the state’s unemployment assistance division, died unexpectedly and was found Thursday morning, administration officials said.
Cunningham, who was 44 years old, leaves a wife and two children.
He was remembered by colleagues as an unflappable presence in the often-unruly world of campaign politics and for helping to bring reforms to the unemployment assistance office he took over in 2015.
In a statement, Governor Charlie Baker said, “Being around Rob meant sharing his enthusiasm and positive attitude no matter how great the task at hand was. I am fortunate to have worked with this man who cherished his family, gave so much back to the community, and made the Commonwealth a better place. As a friend and as a committed public servant, we will miss him deeply.”
Cunningham, whose death shocked the tight-knit world of Massachusetts Republicans as news spread Thursday, was an Abington native who attended Boston College before working in the state office of consumer affairs. Later, he worked as a political consultant and party operative.
Cunningham managed a number of state and local campaigns, including Scott Brown’s winning state Senate race in 2004. He became executive director of the state GOP in 2013.
The following year, the party recaptured the governorship for the first time in eight years and picked up a number of state legislative seats.
State GOP chairwoman Kirsten Hughes, in a phone interview Thursday, called Cunningham “a great friend and somebody who you could go to with any personal or professional problem and he would help you solve it.”
Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald L. Walker II, in a statement, said Cunningham “was a great family man, a warm and gregarious human being, and a dedicated public servant. More than just a great personal loss to those who knew him well, this is also a loss for the Commonwealth and the people of Massachusetts.”
Walker said Cunningham had been integral at the Division of Unemployment Assistance, “bringing down wait times for assistance, significantly reducing backlogs of claims, improving customer service, and bringing many programs into federal compliance for the first time in 10 years. Those achievements are a testament to his work ethic and personal character.”