"On behalf of the Board of Directors, I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected to receive the 2000 Horatio Alger Award," wrote Richard L. Knowlton, President & CEO of the Horatio Alger Association. With little pomp and circumstance, the letter received in the mail by Thomas C. Cundy, Florida State '54, announced that he was selected for one of America's most prestigious civilian honors.
The award annually recognizes individuals who have triumphed over daunting personal obstacles and who have made outstanding contributions to society. Proving the American Dream is within the grasp of every individual despite personal hardships or setbacks serves as the primary benchmark by which recipients are judged.
Cundy was born in 1933 and as an only child, grew up far faster than other children his age. While his friends were out having fun, Cundy was working to help support himself and his mother because of their financial needs. He worked any odd job he could find. He held down at least two jobs every day of his early life.
Near his home, the Work Project Administration built an athletic field and tennis courts, where Cundy got a job maintaining six clay courts for two dollars a week. In the process he learned how to play tennis, which would serve as springboard for future success.
His time spent at the tennis courts helped him become a premier athlete, eventually winning the Kentucky State High School Tennis Championship. His standout play created an opportunity to attend Florida State University on Scholarship. He continued working: washing dishes, being a busboy. He earned a degree.
In 1958, after serving time in the Marines where Cundy earned the rank of Captain, he began working for Prudential, and in less than a year, he sold more than $1 million worth of life insurance. The work ethic he learned early in his life was being rewarded. Provident Life & Accident awarded him a general agency, and Cundy Life Insurance was born.
Over the next 45 years, Cundy built one of the largest privately held employee benefit consulting firm in the nation. Cundy Life Insurance's clients included Anheuser-Busch, Ford Motor Company, Fruit of the Loom, McDonald's and Viacom.
His success hasn't blinded him from his past. Today, he's a major advocate of educational and youth programs in Kentucky, provides equipment and scholarships to students throughout the state, and funded a Holocaust Studies Program at his alma mater.
Horatio Alger's stories, more than 120 published books in all, emphasize themes of honesty, hard work, integrity, education and perseverance in the face of adversity. Cundy's life began in difficult circumstances. His commitment to his mother and their small family's future, working while his friends were having a good time, has many years later, led to his assisting children in Kentucky. His unselfish giving to support education and youth programming embodies the beliefs of the characters brought to life on the pages of Alger's best works. Cundy's is a true-life story of success.
Criteria for Membership
- Exemplify triumph over personal hardships to serve as a role model for young Americans.
- Demonstrate loyalty and devotion to American ideals and to the American free enterprise system.
- Provide outstanding individual leadership and a commitment to excellence in their chosen fields, accomplished through honesty, hard work, self-reliance, enthusiasm and perseverance.
- Serve as dedicated community leaders with a strong commitment to assisting those less fortunate than themselves.
- Believe in and support the goals of the Horatio Alger Association and the purposes for which it was founded.