‘Ms. Margo’ remembered as Hilltop ice cream icon, devoted volunteer

Eddie Cunningham regularly fired his mother, Margo.

She drove an ice cream truck in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood for 17 years to help with his business.

And at the end of the day, she’d usually come up between $60 and $100 short.

That happens when you give all the kids who come up to the window a treat, whether they have money or not.

“She would see those little kids sitting there that didn’t have any money, and her heart would bleed,” Eddie Cunningham said Monday.

“And I would get upset, of course, trying to run a business. … She would call me the next morning and say, ‘Eddie, is my truck ready?’And I would say: ‘Yeah, it’s ready, Ma.’ 

Her community lost “Ms. Margo” on Oct. 13, when the local icon died at age 66 after decades of battling lung disease.

Loved ones, customers and those who remember her as a longstanding volunteer at the Al Davies Boys & Girls Club gathered for her funeral Monday at Life Center in Central Tacoma.

“Ready Rob” Randolph, her nephew, said she’s the reason he stopped doing drugs 16 years ago.

“I got tired of Margo chasing me,” he said at the funeral.

She made a habit of finding the drug houses he was at, waiting outside until he came out and then taking him with her.

They went to a detox center in Seattle that at first didn’t have room for him. That is until she parked outside and said, “We’ll be right here until you have a space for him.”

And they found one.

“Look at me now,” he said. “I’m clean.”

Margo Cunningham, a white woman, was part of the heartbeat of a largely black community, Randolph pointed out.

“This is what’s crazy,” he said, “a white lady, the centerpiece of this whole generation.”

That came with stigma.

Her parents disowned her for being with a black man, Eddie Cunningham said. She and his father ended up divorcing when he was young, he said.

“My grandma had courage, my grandma was resilient, and my grandma was a fighter,” granddaughter Taliesha Garrett said at the funeral.

About 200 people attended the service.

“In case you didn’t know it, ice cream ladies don’t generally have a turnout like this,” the Rev. Dean Curry told the crowd. “She was more interested in the smiles at the truck than the take-home at the end of the day.”

When current and former members and staff of the Al Davis Boys & Girls Club were asked to stand, several dozen people rose.

“All the kids at the club, she called them her kids,” Al Davis director Sierra “Sunshine” Raynor-Overgaard said to The News Tribune.

Ms. Margo helped raise money for supplies, cheer kids on in the club’s athletic programs and tutor youths one-on-one.

Some might remember her as the lady yelling, “Hey, pull those pants up!” and “Wait until I tell your mom how you were acting up today!” grandson Tasean Cunningham told the crowd.

Part of her ice cream route was to stop by the club. She’d bring treats for the kids and cash to cover the cost of memberships for youths who couldn’t afford them.

The club intends to set up an educational scholarship in her name, and the plan is to pay for it with ice cream fundraisers.

She was serious about school and was known to sit in the back of one granddaughter’s math class to keep her on track.

And she once intervened without being asked, when daughter-in-law Babette Beckham was told she hadn’t gotten into a class she needed at Tacoma Community College.

When her mother-in-law was finished, Beckham had a spot in the class and was told there would be textbooks, TCC pencils, free lunch and possibly a scholarship waiting for her.

“If you had Mama in your corner, the odds were strongly in your favor,” Beckham told those gathered.

Ms. Margo is survived by two sons, a daughter, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Eddie Cunningham said he’ll be driving the Hilltop ice cream route now, when he has the time. He parked one of his trucks, with Ms Margo’s photo in the window, outside of the funeral.

Profits not withstanding, rehiring his mother each day was good business, he said.

Otherwise, he said, “It wouldn’t just be hell from her, it’d be the whole community, whole Hilltop on my back.”