Duren Cheek Jr., a well-known and popular former United Press International news executive and then Tennessean political reporter, died Tuesday night at Williamson Medical Center after a long illness. He was 73.
Cheek was a 1959 University of Tennessee graduate named UT’s Journalism Student of the Year. That same year, he joined UPI, where he worked 30 years until his 1990 retirement as the Tennessee bureau chief and regional director for 27 states.
Among the dozens of major international, national and state stories Cheek covered during that time were the trial of Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, the death of Elvis Presley, the Columbia, Tenn. Jail fire, and the ouster and trial of former Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton.
In Down to the Wire, a book that chronicled UPI’s fight for survival as an international news service, Cheek was asked why he dedicated his life to UPI and talked about his competition with the Associated Press, an international news cooperative.
“Beating the AP was the most fun you could have standing up,” he said. “One minute you're typing in hog markets, and the next minute you're telling the world that Elvis is dead.”
Cheek joined The Tennessean in 1991 as a political reporter and was active in the Capitol Hill Press Corps until he retired in 2006.
He helped found and participated in the Society of Professional Journalists’ annual “Gridiron Show,” a benefit media spoof of national, state and local political and business personalities. A fisherman and avid golfer, Cheek also helped start the Duffer’s Open, an annual golf tournament to benefit the SPJ Middle Tennessee chapter’s scholarship fund.
A native of Mountain City, Tenn., and son of the late Claymon Duren Cheek and Clara Brookshire Cheek, he also was preceded in death by his son, Anthony (Tony) Cheek.
Surviving are his wife of 51 years, Beverly; daughter, Michelle; son, Jeff; and grandchildren, Jonathan and Lauren Cheek. Arrangements are incomplete. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the charity of choice.