Elon mourns the passing of Professor Emeritus Paul Cheek
Cheek, who faithfully served Elon for more than three decades in the Department of Chemistry, died May 2.
Paul Cheek, the Vaughn Professor Emeritus of Chemistry who educated generations of Elon students throughout his 36-year career, died May 2 at his home. The family will hold a private graveside service.
A native of Alamance County, North Carolina, Cheek attended public schools in the Eli Whitney community, and graduated from Wake Forest in 1941 with a degree in chemistry. He served in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1942 to 1945 during World War II and was a navigator on a B-17 bomber. Returning from his second mission over Germany, his plane was hit by cannon fire from the ground, instantly killing two members of the crew. The disabled plane crash-landed in northern France and the surviving eight crew members were captured by German forces. The crew made it across a nearby road and through a wood when German forces captured them and took them to separate camps. After spending 13 months as a prisoner of war, Cheek’s camp at Stalag Luft III in Sagan (now Poland), was liberated April 29, 1945. He was honorably discharged in 1945 as a first lieutenant.
By early 1946, Cheek was back in the United States and busy earning degrees in chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He met his wife, Ruth, there, and they were married in 1948. He earned his doctorate in 1950 and started teaching at Elon shortly after, holding positions such as department chair of natural sciences and department chair of physical sciences. He was awarded the L. L. Vaughn Professorship before retiring in 1986. In recognition of his outstanding work with students throughout his career, a former student, Dr. Richard “Dick” Simpson ’57, commissioned a portrait of Cheek that was unveiled in 2014. The portrait greets visitors to the Department of Chemistry suite on the third floor of the university’s McMichael Science Center.
An active member of the Elon Community Church UCC in downtown Elon for almost seven decades, Cheek sang on the choir and served as a deacon and member on numerous committees. He also participated in work the church conducted at the local shelter and was a part of the church’s Men’s Group. He gave numerous talks about his war experiences, including the fascinating recent discovery of remnants of his airplane by a young French teenager, Antoine Berthe, with whom he developed a wonderful friendship. The story of that friendship was featured in the 2013 fall issue of The Magazine of Elon.
Cheek is survived by his wife, Ruth, and four children, Graham Cheek, Sheldon Cheek, Janet Cheek Campbell and Mary Rachel Cheek, as well as his grandchildren, Caroline Campbell, Christopher Campbell and Spencer Wylie Cheek, and several nephews and nieces.