W. Augustus Cheatham, an education official in the administration of U.S. President Jimmy Carter who went on to become the longest-serving vice president at Loma Linda University, has died after an eight-year battle with brain cancer. He was 72.
Cheatham, who was known to friends as Gus, died peacefully at home in Redlands, California, at 3:40 a.m. on Monday, December 22, said his brother, Charles L. Cheatham, former president of the Adventist Church’s Allegheny East Conference.
“Memorial services will be planned and announced,” Cheatham said in a brief e-mail to friends. “Keep us in your prayers.”
W. Augustus Cheatham was first diagnosed with a brain tumor while working as vice president for public affairs and marketing at Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center, the parent company of the university and its affiliates. He experienced symptoms that caused him to seek medical assistance in January 2007.
Cheatham immediately underwent surgery to remove a small brain tumor and, putting his Christian faith and marketing skills on display, used the experience to praise both God and the quality of care at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
“The surgery was a great success and my physicians expect me to recover fully,” Cheatham said in a statement released shortly after the surgery. “The prayers on my behalf are evident in the speedy recovery that has already been my privilege.”
But the tumor returned, and Cheatham retired from the university in September 2007 after a record 22 years in the position.
“Though his illness slowed him down, we kept up our friendship, shared meals whenever we could, and had many opportunities to talk politics: national and church,” said Ray Tetz, a longtime friend and president of Mind Over Media, a strategic communications company in Silver Spring, Maryland.
“He cared deeply about what is happening in our nation and always wanted to know the latest in church politics as well,” Tetz said in a tribute on his Facebook page. “The last time I saw him earlier in the fall, his capacity for speech was nearly gone, but he still wanted to talk, and he was still filled with grace and gratitude.”
Thurgood Marshall a Memorable Experience
Wilbert Augustus Cheatham, who was born on February 14, 1942, completed his undergraduate work in 1965 at Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) in Takoma Park, Maryland, and went on to receive a master’s degree in social work at Howard University in Washington D.C.
Cheatham coordinated community services for public schools in Prince George’s County, Maryland, from 1966 to 1970 before entering 16 years of government service, including appointments as chief of western operations in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; its deputy assistant secretary; and deputy director of its Office for Civil Rights—a position for which he was recommended by Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph Califano and approved by President Jimmy Carter, according to biographical information on Loma Linda University’s website.
“Having the oath of office administered by associate Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was one of Mr. Cheatham’s most memorable experiences,” Loma Linda University said in a July 2007 statement announcing that it was awarding Cheatham with its Distinguished University Service Award.
Upon leaving government service in 1982, Cheatham became principal and business manager of Adventist-operated Pine Forge Academy in Pennsylvania for three years. During that time, enrollment increased 170 percent, from 110 to 285 students; a new campus church was constructed; and funds were raised for a new gymnasium, the academy’s alumni association said this week.
“Mr. Cheatham held many prestigious positions and has a long list of accomplishments and awards. Today we honor the husband, father, brother, uncle, cousin, friend, leader and man of God, ‘Gus,’ as he was affectionately called by all who knew and loved him,” said Sonya Sampson, president of the National Pine Forge Academy Alumni Association.
“We pray for peace and comfort to the family and all those who are touched by this great loss,” she said in a statement.
In 1985, Cheatham joined Loma Linda University and left a lasting impact on its methods of communication.
“His professional legacy includes an institutional brand identity that applies to all forms of university communication—print and electronic; and a notable model of university special-events planning and execution,” the university said in the 2007 statement.
An Influential Mentor
Cheatham is survived by his wife of 51 years, Ida; three children; and seven grandchildren.
Tetz said he would remember Cheatham as an influential mentor who gave him much-needed advice when he embarked on a career in communications after working as youth director of the Southern California Conference in 1986.
“He taught me so much,” Tetz said. “When I started my own company, Gus called and gave us a project on the first day we opened our doors, and we worked together on dozens of assignments until his illness forced his retirement from Loma Linda in 2007.”
He added: “We were honored to be invited to produce a retrospective video on his life and career, and it was shown at the banquet marking his retirement.”
One of Cheatham’s favorite recording artists, Wintley Phipps, also sang at Cheatham’s banquet.
“Gus loved to hear Wintley Phipps sing, and ‘Lift Every Voice’ was one of his favorites,” Tetz said. “‘God of our weary years, God of our silent tears’—the lyrics are more fitting tonight than ever. He rests in Jesus.”