MNTRC Newsletter Vol. 21, Issue 2: Fall 2014

In memoriam
MNTRC loses two guiding lights

by Donna Maurillo, Director of Communications & ITT

James Oberstar

James Oberstar

With great sadness, the Mineta National Transit Research Consortium (MNTRC) has lost two of its talented leaders, Congressman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Julie Cunningham, CEO of the Council of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO). Both were influential in guiding MNTRC’s direction, and their passing is a loss not only for us, but for the entire nation.

Congressman James Oberstar

Congressman Oberstar devoted 36 years in the House, including service as chair of the Transportation Committee. He was the son of a miner, advancing to become the longest-serving congressman in Minnesota’s history. Jim attended MTI/MNTRC board meetings frequently and addressed federal issues that had a bearing on the Consortium’s activities. He was a loquacious speaker, with deep insights regarding Washington’s inner workings, and he provided invaluable guidance to the Institute.

According to the Washington Post, Congressman Vin Weber, also from Minnesota, said that Jim was held in high regard by Republicans because he sought to keep issues before the Transportation Committee free from partisan rancor. In fact, Congressman Weber admitted that he and his wife often voted for Congressman Oberstar.

Jim spoke six languages fluently, and he would often break out into French or Creole given the smallest chance. In fact, he taught Creole to US Marine and Navy officers assigned to Haiti.

The Congressman passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on May 3.

Julie Cunningham

Julie Cunningham

Julie Cunningham, COMTO CEO

Julie Cunningham was known for building healthy, effective partnerships across diverse government and corporate cultures. She also was a strong advocate for a level playing field for minorities, women, and economically disadvantaged people. During her tenure as CEO for COMTO, the organization was awarded the 2005 Disadvantaged Business Advocate of the Year by the US Department of Transportation.

Julie served on the MTI/MNTRC board for several years, with a priority focus on inclusion for all under-represented groups. As such, she helped to ensure that the Consortium maintained its vision to serve everyone who used the nation’s transportation systems.

President Barack Obama chose her to serve on his transition team, and she provided expert testimony before the US Congress, including the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Following a brief illness, Julie passed away on June 24.