Dr. John M. Cheatham Jr.

Family-Placed Death Notice

CHEATHAM, Dr. John M., Jr. Dr. John M. Cheatham, Jr., 68 A Life without Furniture Dr. John Cheatham passed away Monday afternoon, November 2nd. He succumbed to a heart attack while climbing Kennesaw Mountain. Hiking was a favorite recreational pastime and an important part of his profession. He recently climbed and summited Mount Kilimanjaro and had made multiple trips to the Grand Canyon. Just this year, he completed a 50 mile hike from the canyon's south rim to the north rim and then back again with his brother and hiking partner, Jackson. John was born in Griffin, Georgia, on November 29, 1940. He graduated from high school at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta. He completed his undergraduate work at Georgetown University, after serving his country as a sergeant in the Army Special Forces with a tour of duty in Vietnam. Not content with traditional career patterns, however, he earned a commercial pilot's license and then set out to travel the world. John worked as a bush pilot in Africa and New Guinea and then there was a stint in the Amazon rainforest. While in the region, he amazingly persuaded his sister, Elizabeth, to accompany him on a 2,500 mile trip down the Amazon River in a non-motorized dugout canoe. The trip started at the river's headwaters in Peru and finished in Manaus, Brazil, where civilization then began. Along the way, there was a particularly troublesome encounter with an anaconda longer than the boat. Briefly giving in to conventional pressures, John returned to the United States and attended Columbia Business School where he received an MBA degree. Then followed a financial career abroad, but one in which he never felt fulfilled. Business was never John's passion and he was a person who simply refused to live life without passion. Though John was never one to be imprisoned by what others thought he should do, it was not until his late 30's that he identified his life purpose and set out to become a medical doctor working with the poor in the underdeveloped world. He decided upon ophthalmology as a specialization as he considered cataract surgery to be the most effective medical procedure for the poor world. He saw an opportunity to give sight to those who were blind but who lived in areas too remote to be helped by others. At that time, however, no one John's age was ever admitted to American medical schools and for years he was rebuffed in his attempts to study medicine. However, John refused to give up his dream and spent ten years struggling to overcome obstacles before finally getting his degree. Early on, he simply bought medical books and self-taught himself enough to pass Part 1 of the National Medical Boards before ever enrolling in medical school. Then there followed years of multiple schools in multiple countries, with his study of medicine including elements in French, Spanish, English, and Portuguese. Eventually, two influential people recognized what John had to offer the world and took up his cause. They managed to have others bend rules to have him admitted to the Medical College of Georgia where he excelled. Quite likely, John is the only graduate of that school who did so without ever completing a single premed course. One of these men described his efforts on John's behalf as the best investment he ever made. John went on to practice ophthalmology for 20 years in the undeveloped world. During that time he never received a dollar of salary nor charged a single patient for either the surgery received or for the all important logistical support that made that surgery possible. John took the time to learn the needs of the poor; he walked among them. He understood how difficult it was for the blind in remote areas to find their way to medical facilities. So he went looking for them, always contending that the surgical aspect was the S easiest part of the process. John knew that the work takes a lot of mud on the boots as well as good medical skills, and he was prepared to give both. Though he certainly never kept score, it seems safe to say that over 20,000 people regained their sight due to his efforts and those of the dedicated team that he led at the Mathis Eye Foundation, an organization named in honor of his mother and uncle. John's other interests over the years included flying, parachuting, judo, SCUBA diving, travel (people would try to name a country that he hadnít visited), languages (he studied eleven and spoke many of these fluently), hiking into remote areas to locate the blind poor, and reading. He studied history that he might learn from the past. In June of this year, he embarked on his greatest adventure of all when he married his long-term companion, and often co-worker, Dr. Anne Schlueter. Many have said how John strongly influenced their lives. We know that his example inspired others into medicine. Some considered him to be their mentor. All who crossed his path found him encouraging, as just being around John left one with the feeling that they could do better in their own lives. He inspired them to try. Throughout it all, John lived a simple life. He did not own a home, a car, or a cell phone. His possessions consisted only of a closet full of items at his mother's home and that which he carried with him when he traveled. Yet with so few accessories, he accomplished so much. People often marveled at John's life and asked if he would ever write an autobiography. This question he would laughingly dismiss, saying that too many people write books while too few read books. However, he did recently say that should he ever change his mind, the book's title would be A Life without Furniture. In accordance with John's wishes, he will be cremated on Friday, November 6th and his ashes scattered without ceremony or memorial. He wanted no flowers to be sent or donations made on his behalf. The family certainly intends to respect his wishes, but we also feel the need to make a request of those who cared for John. We want to recognize that he spent his life giving sight to the poor. He quite literally brought light into areas of the world that desperately needed it. As such, we can not let the day pass without honoring his efforts. So we ask all who knew John or those who simply identify with his life's purpose to light to a candle on Friday in memory of a life well spent and to take a few moments to reflect on how we, too, can bring light into the world. A single life produces much radiance when that person follows his dreams, tries to do what is right, and refuses to let obstacles stand in the way. John Cheatham did all that. The world is better for his having lived. We are better for having known him. Though his life may have ended too soon, it was a life complete in so many ways. John is survived by his wife Anne, mother Elizabeth, sister Elizabeth, brothers Jackson and Harvey, nieces Lizzie and Anne-Marisa, and so many here and abroad who called him friend.
Published by Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Nov. 6, 2009.
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28 Entries
Was searching for a John Cheatham and this has to be the same one. My search was due to listening to a collection of very old cassette tapes and am now listening to one of Italian Baroque music that an interesting acquaintance made for me around 1980 when I lived in Atlanta. An acquaintance named John Cheatham. Some of my friends and I would join John for dinner at very exotic restaurants and were fascinated at all the languages he commanded. His apartment was sparse and then one day "Poof" he was gone. We all did think he was a spy and was sent on some foreign mission. I was glad to read that his life touched and improved so many. Thank-you for posting such a wonderful accounting of his life.
Suzanne Phillips
August 27, 2018
John Demoss
September 27, 2014
I was John's Portuguese teacher in New York, when he worked for Citibank. He used to go to Columbia U. at night and on weekends to study for Medical School. This was the time when John was making very important life decisions. We became friends and I will never forget the many wonderful stories he would tell with a little prodding about his life experiences. I was very saddened when I goggled John's name and found out he's no longer with us. I had certainly hoped that one day we would reconnect and catch up. Rest in peace, John, dear friend.
Lenir Drake
July 3, 2012
November 02, 2010
We'll never forget John, his courage, brilliance, intelligence and humanity.
Gisela Schlüter
November 2, 2010
august 22, 2010
as a foreign student sponsered by the rotary club of griffin , ga. i had a chance to meet john a couple of times .our way separated after my studies at the uga.i missed a chance to meet him again in columbia. i was in bucaramanga teaching business at the uis, he was in vilavicencio. we tried to meet together but did not make it.i still regret not to have seen him at the time. john was a great and fascinating guy not quite in his place in the normal world.i sure am happy to have met him.his life was quite an achievement and i am sure that his mother who was a "lady" influenced it quite much.she told me one day that the time during which john was in vietnam was the most frightening years she ever had at the time.well i guest that seeing john's parcours she must have had some more ocasions to get frightened.
i hope she and liz will have a chance to read this mail.my english is not good enough to express the sadness i feel learning about john's disapearance

gustave reiland
m.b.a. uga 1966
rotary student
aix-en-provence france
August 22, 2010
John: Thank you for your appearance last night at the library. It is good to know you are around again after all these years.H.
July 25, 2010
We learned to know John some years ago, when he, his wife Anne and common friends (Dr. Minkowski and wife) visited with us. We never saw him again and do regret that very very much, but we never forgot him since he left a deep, deep impression in our thoughts and hearts. He was unique !!!!! He "spread" such a friendlyness, warmth and showed such a overwhelming interest. He "filled the room", when he spoke and everyone loved listening to him. We felt that he is a very, very special and fascinating person and by the same time he was so natural, so "based" with both feed on the ground. He seemed to love his life and life in general and he seemed to have such a power and so much will and energy to help and to do what he can to help. He did not talk about what he all did for the poor, it seemed as if he did not want to "earn compliments" for that or so. Even more he got our deepest respect and admiration.
I wished my English were better and I could express what we feel !!!!
We were and still are really shocked when we learned to know about his much too early death . Lil and Bill Minkowski told us about this tragedy in a letter that reached us today and this news shocked us so deeply that we are thinking of that all the time and caanot realize that this is true.
John was such a great man and the world would be such a much better one if there would be more people like John !!!!

We feel so much and full of sympathy with his wife Anne, who is a very special woman, too and with his Family. It is such a lost and we really cannot imagine and believe that he is really gone. May be GOD has a very special "job" for him to do in heaven ... !

We send our warmth and the very, very best wishes to all who were especially important in John´s life and who miss him most.

The Schommer-Family from Germany,
who feels honored and very proud to have met and learned to know John. Unfortunately we had just a short time together (some few hours), but a very important and deep impressive experience that we never will forget and we never shall forget John himself. It was just very sad that there never again has been a chance to meet him and his wife Anne again. We very often regretted that and now even more. May GOD give you much comfort !

PS: John spoke a fluent German and we learned to know him as a real warm-hearted and smart person, who was interested in all what we told him. He gave us the feeling, that he really wants to listen to each word that we talked to him and that made this meeting a unique experience. We could feel how special he was and how good !!

It is so sad he never wrote about his life,-
this would have been a wonderful chance to learn to know him much closer and to take part of his very special life.
Family Schommer
January 18, 2010
John Cheatham was perhaps the finest human being I have ever met...
Having witnessed the miracle of his works at the Hermano Pedro Hospital in Antigua Guatemala...
A very sad loss for me and all of the world...

Many, many blessings to what must be a wonderful family,

Jon Anderholm
Jon Anderholm
December 21, 2009
Admiradores de la gran obra benefica que john ha realizado durante su vida, nos sentimos muy aflijidos de que una persona que ha aportado tanto a esta humanidad haya muerto. Lo echaremos mucho de menos. Es una de las personas mas bondadosas y caritativas que hemos conocido. Ojala en este mundo existieran mas seres humanos como el. Desde Alicante siempre nos acordaremos
Luis y Reme
November 17, 2009
El equipo de cirugía pediátrica que colabora con Obras Sociales Hno. Pedro en Guatemala. Nos sentimos tristes, conocimos a John y nos marcó para siempre con su presencia y amistad. ¡qué pronto se marchan los buenos...! Siempre estarás con nosotros.Abrazos a la familia.
November 13, 2009
I roomed with John for one year at Westminster and you had to admire his free spirit about life and how much he enjoyed his '54' MG TD(Green). You would never suspect that he would be dedicating his life to helping others like he did. I did not see John after that year until his 50th reunion and am so thankful to have had the chance to talk to him again.

The world is less with his passing but so much more blessed for his service to others.
'Bo' Robert Brown
November 12, 2009
Since our common days together at Columbia Business School, John has pursued widely-varied career paths from investment banking in Washington DC and Peru; retail banking in New York and Ivory Coast; medical-study entry pursuits in Belgium, Brazil and USA; medical study program and residency completion in USA; and ultimately to an "Albert Schweitzer-like" medical practice among the poorest persons in remote areas of Guatemala, Brazil, Haiti, Central Africa and India to regain their lost eyesight - -that became his true-life passion. Namely of helping others in a significant and life-changing manner.

In the words of Albert Schweitzer:

"Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace."

"I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."

As such, John has certainly led a happy and full-filling life, and found his peace at last.
Keith McDaniel
November 12, 2009
November 8, 2009
It has been many years since we were childhood friends, Harvey, and both took paths that lead far afield. I was just sent John's obituary, and I am sorry to hear of his death.
Fred Brown
November 7, 2009
I never knew John. I am amazed and inspired by his life story. I will do my best to to follow the example he set. My condolences to the family, I know he will be missed.
Adam McKinney
November 7, 2009
Our sympathy to Anne, to Mrs. Cheatham, Elizabeth, Jackson, Little Harvey and Big Harvey, all of whom we have heard about for 40 years. We were so sorry to hear of John's passing, but what a way to go, doing what he loved to do. He lit up our lives in so many ways, as Terry's roommate at Columbia Business School, our early married years in Washington, DC, and an inspiration for our children Lyman and Lucy. No one could tell a story better than John. We will always smile when we think of him.

With love,
Terry and Rosemary Doyle, Lyman and Lucy
Shanghai, Oregon, New York
November 7, 2009
I didn't know John but I knew some of the Cheatham family through working at Dundee for many years. I'm so sorry for your loss.
David Baugh
November 7, 2009
John was in my graduation class at Westminster. He was also one of the few of us who were dormitory students. What a joy to see him at our 50th reunion and hear about his extraordinary life. I'm so sorry for your loss and trust you are looking to the Lord Jesus at this time for He is the only one who can give you true comfort.
My love and prayers,
Glancy Jones Dunn
John 3:16
Glancy Dunn
November 6, 2009
Tonight, I light a candle for John. I had long discussions with John after my air-combat tour in Viet Nam, and I managed to run in to him often enough in the late 60s and 70s to follow his amazing life. I have oft told his story, with awe. I spent this summer staffing a fire lookout tower on the Oregon wilderness, and I actually had several occasions to tell John's story. The wilderness was John's element. It seems to be mine, too. RIP, friend.

W. McLean Tippins (Greenville, SC)
November 6, 2009
Tonight, I light a candle for John. I had long discussions with John after my air-combat tour in Viet Nam, and I managed to run in to him often enough in the late 60s and 70s to follow his amazing life. I have oft told his story, with awe. I spent this summer staffing a fire lookout tower on the Oregon wilderness, and I actually had several occasions to tell John's story. The wilderness was John's element. It seems to be mine, too. RIP, friend.
McLean Tippins
November 6, 2009
I met John while I was living at Antigua, Guatemala. A man, open and always thinking positive, in stark contrast to most of us. I admired him as I was very much aware that he coould have led a very different life! A richer life? I don't believe that after reading how his friends and family perceived him!
Martin Naarmann
November 6, 2009
There are many, myself among them, who have dreamed of living the life John lived-relishing every day and living it to the fullest, all the while giving back part of ourselves in appreciation. I never met John, but reading of his life motivates me to be a better person. To his family, including brother Harvey [a Westminster classmate of mine], I wish I had words that would ease your loss.
Peter Melton
November 6, 2009
John and I were friends at Columbia Business School. We both enjoyed laughing,and spoofing others, which we did in abundance. I knew then what an extraordinary individual he was and it just became more so with his other accomplishments and charity. James Randel..,.Atlanta, GA
November 6, 2009
I lit his candle today to honor him and admire his life's journey. My love and sincerest sympathy to all of the family. He was an amazing man and the entire world will suffer in his loss.
Louise Clouse-Magill
November 6, 2009
Vicki............ .Years ago, I met John through you and have admired him tremendously ever since. What an
extraordinary life he lived, contributing so muh in service to others and what a huge loss his death is to the world!
Helen Moore
November 6, 2009
John certainly crammed a lot of living into his life. It was my pleasure to have know him. He will be missed but never forgotten by those who loved and were touched by his presence. John and the people who loved him will be in my prayers. Gail MacIsaac
Gail MacIsaac
November 6, 2009
What an extraordinary man. His life story should be an inspiration for this generation and many to come. Thank you for sharing his life contributions with those of us who never met him.
November 6, 2009
Thank you for sharing his life with all of us that never knew him. What an amazing story.
November 6, 2009
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