John  Cunniff

Obituary of John Lawrence Cunniff

Founder and President of Westport Builders, Inc.


John Cunniff passed away on May 24, 2023, in his home in Santa Cruz after a valiant struggle with cancer. He was in the loving care of his family. He will be remembered as a beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, ever-engaging storyteller, and master builder.

John was born in Syracuse, New York on October 20, 1953, and raised in Westport, Connecticut. During his high school years at the Frederick Gunn School, he discovered both his emergent talent as a writer and a lifelong connection to nature through cross-country running.

After attending Drew University, John left the east coast in his early 20s to seek a new life in California. He arrived in Santa Cruz in 1977 and soon acquired his general contractor’s license.

As the owner of Westport Builders, Inc., John excelled for over four decades in creating beautifully crafted custom homes. The consistently high quality and enduring appeal of his work sustained his business by generating enthusiastic word of mouth recommendations by architects, designers, and loyal customers.

One home that John meticulously restored drew the interest of his future spouse, Bonnie. John’s attention to detail, instinct for aesthetics, and clear love of the art of building convinced her that he was the right builder for her own home’s upcoming building project.

What started as a short-term remodeling collaboration turned into building a life together. Through decades of deepening love and partnership, John and Bonnie created a close-knit family and a circle of lasting friendships. John was actively involved in the lives of their three children, sponsoring and coaching sports teams, taking road trips with each of them, and engaging in daily nurturing and encouragement.

Beyond his dedication to family and work, John built a legacy of connection through patient and expert mentorship; generosity in his friendships; a natural curiosity and breadth of interests that sparked conversation; impromptu group writing sessions; any opportunity to cheer on the Golden State Warriors; and a reverence for wild and natural places, particularly the vast red rock landscapes of the Southwest.

This same spirit of connection and camaraderie led to a decade of active involvement in Santa Cruz mountain biking and trail building groups. The bridges he built on the Emma McCrary Trail in Pogonip created a continuous path through the forest that will allow future generations to explore the natural environments he loved so much.

John wrote stories from the time he was a teenager, and was seriously devoted to his writing in the last few years of his life. Even as his illness progressed, he continued to work on a collection of stories, mostly related to his experiences as a builder, which he developed and polished until his final days.

John spent the last year of his life with Bonnie in Pennsylvania near family. He found peace and happiness in a place that evoked the woodlands of his early years; and joy in seeing grandson Eddie almost every day. Though their time together was short, Eddie and John developed a special bond.

John was preceded in death by his much-loved sister Suzy, and his parents, Jack and Joan Cunniff. He is survived by his partner in love and in life, Bonnie Friedmann; adored children, Kate Friedmann, Emma (Aaron) de Long, and David Friedmann; light-filled grandson Edward de Long; devoted sister Sarah Cunniff (Richard Fernau); brothers Firinn Taisdeal and Tom Cunniff; special nephews Owen and Eliot Fernau and Jack Cunniff; and a large community of friends and coworkers.

A private family ceremony will be held in the fall of 2023 in Connecticut. Donations in John’s memory can be made to the following organizations.

Compassion & Choices



Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Stewardship