Kurtis A. Tunnell, 58, of Hilliard, Ohio, was tragically killed on Aug. 31, 2019. Kurt passed away at Riverside Hospital after a car collided with his bicycle on Scioto Darby Road in rural Hilliard.
He was most invigorated when he combined exercise, deep thinking and relaxation with his “nose to the wind,” being inspired by farm landscapes in his early morning rides.
Kurt was born to parents, Henry Adair Tunnell and Mary Ellen Laubner Tunnell, on Oct. 1, 1960, in North Platte. Kurt learned dedication, determination and perseverance from his family, growing up working from dawn to dusk on his fourth-generation Tunnell family farm near Stapleton. As a child, he delivered newspapers, became an Eagle Scout and was valedictorian at Stapleton High School in 1979. Kurt graduated from Hastings College in 1983, where he was also awarded the Harry S. Truman Scholarship. As a Rotary scholar, he obtained his master’s degree at the University of Toronto before completing law school at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in 1987.
Kurt married the love of his life, Julie Jones, on Aug. 10, 1985, in Stapleton. They were married 34 wonderful years and have three children: Kristine, Jordan and Jessica. Kurt was a devoted husband, father and friend.
Kurt joined the law firm of Bricker & Eckler, where he spent his entire 31-year career. Kurt’s devotion and work ethic made an immediate impact at the law firm, and people throughout the community began to notice a budding talent. At the young age of 33, Kurt was tapped by Gov.-elect George Voinovich to serve as governor’s chief legal counsel. His distinguished service to Ohio began with Gov. Voinovich and continued through the years in all facets of Ohio government, serving Ohio governors, attorneys general, members of the Ohio General Assembly, congressional leaders, and President George W. Bush as his Ohio counsel during and after the 2004 presidential campaign. Kurt gave selflessly of his time and talents to elected officials of both parties, clients and friends always believing that we serve others best when we seek to serve something greater than ourselves.
At Bricker & Eckler, Kurt built a practice that centered on the intersection of public policy and politics. He helped spearhead advocacy efforts that established Ohio as a national leader in comprehensive tort reform initiatives. Kurt led legislative initiatives that have reduced and broadened the insurance premium tax, applied Ohio’s tax abatement law to all electric generation facilities, eliminated the tax on prescription pharmaceutical samples and maintained the interests of nonprofit hospitals. He assisted in the development of a coalition of advanced energy companies, including solar, wind and biomass business, to advocate adoption of a renewable energy portfolio standard in Ohio.
His capstone role was leading the third largest firm in Columbus, Ohio, as Managing Partner of Bricker & Eckler. His calm, reassuring spirit was combined with a sharp, analytical intellect as he facilitated the strategic and operational direction of this major Ohio law firm. Kurt established a leadership program within the firm to grow its leadership capacity and provide opportunities for young partners and senior associates to make early contributions to the firm. He was a passionate advocate for and a leader of diversity and inclusion initiatives in the legal profession.
Kurt lived his life humbly dedicated to serving those around him. His calm, reassuring spirit was combined with a sharp, insightful intellect. These ingredients led Kurt to become a trusted advisor to governors, senators, business leaders, law partners, neighbors, friends, friends of friends and family members. A serious thinker, focused strategic leader and a devout person of faith, Kurt also possessed an incredible sense of humor and a wonderfully warm and welcoming smile. He was a great conversationalist who enjoyed a hearty laugh. He will be missed as a mentor to others for his calm guiding wisdom, especially his ability to tell others what they needed to hear in a critical moment. He enjoyed connecting people to achieve a common goal and supporting others to live out their passions. His faith was the center of his life, and he was very involved at Northwest Bible Church serving as a deacon and on many community boards and foundations.
He retired from practicing law in January 2018 in order to pursue a “second half” dedicated to serving and furthering God’s kingdom. During this brief retirement, he spent time hiking the Colorado trail with his daughter Kristine; visiting his daughter Jessica and supporting her missionary role in San Pedro, Dominican Republic; and encouraging his son, Jordan, in his engineering job at Honda. Kurt traveled to Africa this summer on safari with his beloved family, which included a week at the Namikango Farm in Malawi, Africa. Kurt also gave generously of his time and talents by consulting on political races and issues, uplifting charities and guiding their leaders in serving others.
In addition to his law career, leadership development and diversity initiatives, one of his greatest joys grew out of assisting the creation and development of a self-sustainable farm business model in Malawi, which will continue to provide jobs for Malawi workers and their families, and a hope for their future. In addition, it is a demonstration site for local Malawi farmers and other international charity efforts in Africa.
Kurt is survived by his wife, Julie J. Tunnell; and children, Kristine (Casey) Tunnell Helsper Jefferson, Colorado, Jordan Tunnell of Hilliard, Ohio, and Jessica Tunnell of Chandler, Arizona.
A memorial foundation is being established to continue Kurt’s legacy of servant leadership and diversity and inclusion, and to further assist the Kurt Tunnell Leadership Development Program at Bricker & Eckler. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to either of the following memorials: the Namikango Farm in Malawi, Africa, in care of the Malawi Talent Fund, malawitalentfund.org; or to the Kurt Tunnell Servant Leadership Memorial Foundation in care of the Tunnell Leadership Development Program at Bricker & Eckler LLP.
Online condolences may be shared at schoedinger.com.
There will be a private family visitation at 10 a.m. Saturday, with a reception afterwards at the Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Stapleton. A local celebration will be at 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 7, at Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Kurt will be buried next to his parents at McCain Cemetery, Stapleton. A celebration of life ceremony was Thursday, Sept. 5, at Northwest Bible Church, Hilliard, Ohio. The viewing was Wednesday, Sept. 4, at Schoedinger Northwest Chapel, Columbus.
Kurt cared deeply and passionately for others and worked every single day to provide a path for success to nearly everyone with whom he interacted. He was the consummate servant leader. He was genuine and forthright in all things, and Kurt described a servant leader in the following quote:
“Leadership is a climb; learn from fellow travelers the art of being a servant leader.” — Kurtis A. Tunnell, 2018