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Claudia Slemp Gunning & Thomas John Gunning

• Jul 9, 2019 at 3:42 PM

DURHAM, NC/BIG STONE GAP, VA - Claudia Slemp Gunning, 86, was born in Turkey Cove, outside of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, April 9, 1933. She passed away on Sunday, July 7, 2019 in Durham, N.C. 

She attended Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Virginia and attended the University of Tennessee Law School. 

Thomas John Gunning was born in New York, New York on April 29, 1930 to John Gunning and Eve Ackerman.  He passed away on February 11, 2016. 

At the age of 18, Tom left home walking across the George Washington Bridge and hitchhiked around the country, stopping at various places along the way to work odd jobs including a short-time at the Gates Rubber Company in Denver, Colorado.  Tom later married his first wife Lorraine Kavanaugh.  They had two sons Thomas Gunning Jr. and Timothy Gunning.

Tom joined the U.S. Foreign Service and was selected as one of 22 from thousands of candidates.  His first post was in Thessaloniki, Greece, as a Foreign Service Officer with the US Information Service.  Thereafter, he spent the remainder of his Foreign Service career in Africa.  Tom, like his colleagues, blazed the trail for new foreign service officers across this continent, launching embassies and consulates and building new diplomatic relations across the newly independent states in Africa.  Tom opened the first consulate in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where he spent more than a year as the only American.  Few understood the hardship of foreign service, as Tom contracted numerous fevers and sickness from which he suffered in later years.  But his commitment to sharing the best of the American principles with the new African countries prevailed and today because of courage and the courage of others like him, the US enjoys relatively good relations with these countries. 

Claudia joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1955 and worked for more than 15 years in the administrative unit of the U.S. Information Service. Her first posting was Paris, France, where she assisted with preparations for the diplomatic mission of President John F. Kennedy to France following the end of World War II.  During this visit, she helped write and carryout the protocol that would serve as the foundation for all future U.S. presidential visits to other nations.  She was later posted in the US Embassy in Berlin, Germany, from where she watched the construction of the Berlin Wall. 

In 1967, Tom met Claudia Slemp at their joint posting in Ghana. They married in April 1968 at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Accra. The two were later sent to South Africa serving during the difficult devolution of the country into apartheid. They considered among their proudest accomplishments their democracy-building efforts with students in South Africa during this time. These young people would go on to sow the seeds of change which allowed for the democratic election of Nelson Mandela. Tom and Claudia curated an exhibition of man’s first step on the moon for the leaders of South Africa and Swaziland.   

Tom and Claudia left the U.S. Foreign Service, retiring to Chapel Hill, North Carolina where Tom started the Center for Entrepreneurial Development, a nonprofit organization which incubated small business entrepreneurs in the newly formed Research Triangle Park. Claudia worked in the contracts department of the Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Except for a brief move to Holland for several years where Claudia worked as a contract agent for the U.S. Army in Rotterdam, they lived the remainder of their lives in Chapel Hill, NC.   

The original “gamer” Tom loved solving puzzles and working on his computer.  Claudia enjoyed countless hours in her garden and was an active member of the Colony Woods Garden Club. Claudia was well known for her cooking, having studied at the Cordon Bleu School of Cooking in Paris, France, and briefly operated a catering company out of her home. Claudia carried the Olympic torch through part of North Carolina as it made its way to the 2002 Olympic games in Salt Lake City. 

Claudia was preceded in death by her husband; her parents, Marion M. and Bess (Taylor) Slemp; her brothers, Clarence Slemp and Harry Lee Slemp; and sisters Loretta Slemp Hilleary and Lucille Slemp Grigsby.

Tom and Claudia are survived by his sons, Thomas Gunning Jr. and Timothy Gunning; Tom’s sister, Nancy Guido; sister-in-law, Lynn Gunning; four grandchildren, Aaron Gunning, Bennett Gunning, Meghan Sharpstene and Connor Gunning; and seven great grandchildren, Colin, Cassie, Arianna, Kole, Rhet, Bentley and Shyhan. They are also survived by sister-in-law, Glena Sue Slemp, her four children, Chris Slemp, Shelia Slemp, Mark Slemp, and Ashley Held and their children Travis, Hank, Savannah, Olivia, Quinlan and Juna.

The family will receive friends from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Thursday (July 11, 2019) at Gilliam Funeral Home in Big Stone Gap, Va.

A Celebration of Life service, for Tom and Claudia, will be conducted at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Seminary United Methodist Church with Rev. Bill Rines officiating.

Interment will follow in the Slemp Family Cemetery.  The family and friends will serve as pallbearers.

To view the obituary online and offer condolences, please visit www.gilliamfuneralhome.com.

Gilliam Funeral Home and Crematory is honored to serve Mrs. Gunning’s family.

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