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Obituaries

Dr. James Addison Cheney

Feb. 2, 1927 — Nov. 22, 2019

365体育滚球Dr. James Addison Cheney, a professor emeritus of civil engineering at UC Davis, was the first faculty member in the department of civil engineering who brought a diverse technical background which allowed him to teach a wide range of academic disciplines including civil, aerospace and mechanical engineering, died on Nov. 22, 2019, at home in Davis. He was 92 years old.

365体育滚球Dr. Cheney was the founding director of the Center for Geotechnical Modeling at UC Davis and known for his dry wit, generously mentoring the research of more than 100 graduate students and working with 50 different faculty members. His wide range of interests included geotechnical modeling for earthquakes at NASA’s Ames Research Center and Lawrence Livermore National Labs, sheathing materials for satellites and aircraft at Lockheed, peaceful uses of atomic energy through project Plow Shares; and diagnosing the causes and mitigation of racehorse bone fractures with the UC Davis Veterinary School.

Dr. Cheney was recognized as a prominent engineer but also as an intellectually generous scholar. When asked by the United Nations and the Italian government to diagnose the causes and approach for the renovation of the “Leaning Tower of Pisa,” he agreed. After initial analysis, he determined the cause of the famous tilting is due to “basic physics” of the tower being “too thin in proportion to its height; it is like balancing a pencil on a table.” When asked why he had not announced his discovery while attending the national conference, he said, “The problem was simple when understood. There were plenty of Italian colleagues who cared and plenty of credit to go around.” The Italian national press release had more than 50 prominent scientists named, along with Dr. Cheney, solving the mystery and enabling the conservation of the iconic tower.

365体育滚球James Addison Cheney was born in West Los Angeles on Feb. 2, 1927, to Burton Cheney and Esther Cheney. His father was a hardware store owner in West Los Angeles. His mother was a practicing nurse. Jim grew up in a simpler West Los Angeles beach community attending Hamilton High School.

In World War II, from 1945 to 1946, Jim served in the U.S. Navy as a petty officer in the 12th District Navy Headquarters, stationed in San Francisco. Returning to Los Angeles, he attended UCLA, where he met and married Frankyee Jane Jackson of Santa Monica, also attending UCLA. Jim was granted a bachelor’s degree in 1949 and then continued to work for the UCLA department of engineering research. In 1952, he was granted a master’s degree from UCLA in civil engineering.

365体育滚球Jim and family fully enjoyed the informal university lifestyle in Los Angeles. Following graduation, he joined L.T. Evans, Foundation Engineers in Los Angeles, for two years as a licensed civil engineer in the State of California.

365体育滚球He then joined the Lockheed Missile Systems Division in Sunnyvale. Moving to Saratoga, he became head of the Strength Analysis Group on the Agena Satellite. In 1959, he won a Lockheed scholarship to pursue graduate studies in engineering mechanics at Stanford University. His Ph.D. was awarded in 1963.

In 1962, he joined UC Davis’ new School of Engineering as its first faculty member. His distinct background enabled the new department to teach a myriad of subjects from engineering mechanics to aeronautical sciences.

365体育滚球He was one of the early leaders of the development of geotechnical centrifuges. He was the founding director of the Center for Geotechnical and Seismic Modeling at UC Davis and was the principal investigator to build the National Geotechnical Centrifuge at NASA Ames. Under his direction, the large centrifuge was later moved and installed at UCD. Throughout his extensive career, he authored over 50 published papers, 40 lectures, among other technical reviews. His professional contributions led to his being named a Fellow of Emmanuel College at Cambridge University in England.

He had three marriages. He is survived by his wife, Elaine Barrett, with whom he lived in Davis and two sons, Michael Cheney and David Cheney, with his second wife Barbara Chadwick. Jim’s four daughters and two sons, Linanne Spangler, Sarah Worley-Cheney, Sharla Cheney and Jennifer Douglas; John Cheney and Matthew Cheney are from his first marriage with Frankyee Jackson (deceased 1966). His brother, Phil Cheney, preceded him in death.

Jim’s legacy continues with 10 grandchildren: Renee and Brett (Sarah), Lucas and Bryson (John), Mara and Evan (Sharla), Maggie and Jackson (Linanne), Trevor (Jennifer), Ali (Matt); and two great-grandchildren, Caleb (Trevor) and Summer (Maggie).

Jim was married to Elaine Barratt for the last 31 years of his life. They were fond of traveling extensively to many of their favorite destinations, including Paris, Hawaii, Colorado and Arizona. They also enjoyed being active members of the Davis community including the Davis Odd Fellows and St. Martins Episcopal Church. Jim was also an avid San Francisco Giants fan throughout his life.

Jim had profound faith, combining theology and science. Jim was a deacon in the Episcopal Church in Davis and the Arch Diocese in Northern California. He also was a Boy Scout leader having been awarded the highest adult honor, the Silver Beaver Award, for leadership. Jim was known to be playful and charming; whether at a Harry Potter-themed wedding in Virginia or at a political event, exploring new ideas, new relationships and new interests. Jim was a devout defender of science, theology and common decency.

Cremation services were held privately in December.

The “Celebration of James Cheney’s Life” will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2, at the Odd Fellows Hall 415 Second St. in Davis; it is open to all friends and family. He will be missed.

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