Giving back: Optometrist, mom, philanthropist gives new meaning to busy

September 7, 2010 9:41:00 AM

Kristin Mamrack -


To say Dr. Susanne Cunningham, an associate optometrist at Curtis Optometry, is busy is an understatement. 


Cunningham is mother to a 2-year-old son, Colin, and splits her time between serving her profession, her community and her family. 


A graduate of the 2008 class of Leadership Lowndes County -- which she credits with "jump-starting" her involvement in the community -- she also served as a member of Link''d Young Professionals board of directors and helped plan the first Clean Sweep Columbus event, as a member of the Government Affairs Committee of the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link and with the Junior Auxiliary of Columbus, where she currently serves as assistant treasurer. She also attends Beersheba Cumberland Presbyterian Church, where she met her husband of eight years, Jeff. 


Additionally, she is actively involved in the Mississippi Optometric Association, serving on several committees and her various leadership roles have included secretary-treasurer, vice president, president-elect, and president of the association. 


Cunningham, 34, is a graduate of New Hope High School, the University of Alabama and the Southern College of Optometry. She has been widely recognized for her service to her profession and the community. 


In 2006, she was named the Mississippi Optometric Association''s Young Optometric Doctor of the Year and was chosen by the Southeast Council of Optometrists as the 2007 Young Optometrist of the South. 


She also recently was named to the Mississippi Business Journal''s Top 40 Under 40 list of professionals. 




So, how does she do it all and do it well? 


Cunningham largely credits the support of her family and the lessons imparted by her parents, both of whom are no longer with her, though their presence is felt everyday. 


"My parents are still a large driving force or motivation in my life, even though they are not physically here," Cunningham said.  




Why is civic involvement important to you? 


I would like to be remembered as someone who gave back more than I had taken. After having a child, I am even more motivated with the desire to make the world a better place for him and his family one day. 




What do you most enjoy about civic or community involvement, and what do you find most challenging about it? 


I enjoy most getting to meet and know others in the community who I may not have otherwise met. Being active and involved in the community brings the community together for a common good. My biggest challenge with being involved in the community is to not spread myself too thin. I would love to be even more involved, but there are only so many hours in the day! It is a challenge to try to focus on a few projects where I hopefully can make the most impact. 




As a mother, professional and volunteer, what motivates you to continue with so many activities? 


I think that I am most motivated by a strong desire to leave this world a tiny bit better than it was when I arrived. My patients also motivate me each day. I want to do everything humanly possible to take care of them, helping to give them clearer vision or referring them to appropriate practitioners if we detect signs of diabetes, hypertension or other health concerns. Sometimes, this involves helping them find ways to afford their glaucoma medications by contacting pharmaceutical companies for patient assistance or offering Lions Club applications for programs to help cover costs of new glasses to those who could not otherwise have their needs met. 




How do you maintain a balance between work, civic involvement and your family or personal life? 


That is certainly one of my biggest challenges. It takes a lot of support from family and my husband to be able to be as involved as I have been. The majority of my work with the Mississippi Optometric Association is done via e-mail, conference calls and a couple day trips to Jackson for board meetings. Occasionally, there have been opportunities to bring Colin with me when volunteering in the community. I think that it is important to instill in him at an early age that being involved in the community is important! 




What do you most enjoy doing in your free time, if you have any? 


In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my family. In the fall, we enjoy attending University of Alabama football games, where we are season ticket holders. Colin attended his first Bama game with us when he was 9 months old. After three years of being on the waiting list, Colin now has his own season ticket! We also love long weekends on the beach, when we can fit them in during the summer. I also enjoy shopping, volunteer work and spending time with friends. 




What advice do you have for those seeking to become more involved or engaged in their profession and community? 


I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in becoming more involved in their community to do so. I have found that as I have gotten involved in the community, I have really gotten to know more about the community where I live. I have met many people who otherwise I may not have gotten to know.