Cheek was a retired partner of Bass Berry & Sims in Nashville, where he earned a national reputation practicing corporate and securities law over a career spanning 50 years.A Nashville native, Cheek earned his undergraduate degree at Duke University in 1964 before earning his law degree at Vanderbilt. He earned an LL.M. at Harvard Law School in 1968.
Cheek joined Bass Berry & Sims in 1970 after working for six summers at the Nashville investment firm J.C. Bradford and teaching at Vanderbilt Law School from 1968 to 1970. He taught on the law school’s adjunct faculty throughout his career and joined the VLS Law and Business faculty as a professor of the practice of law in 2014, teaching Law as a Business and Representing the Public Company.
“Jim Cheek was a nationally renowned expert in corporate governance and securities law and a valued member of the Vanderbilt Law faculty and alumni community and the Nashville legal community. We are grateful for Jim’s contributions to the law school as a faculty member, alumni leader and generous donor throughout his storied legal career,” said Chris Guthrie, Dean and John Wade-Kent Syverud Professor of Law.
Over the course of his career, Cheek provided legal advice to national corporations, including AutoZone and Bank of America, and worked with most public companies in Nashville, including HCA and Genesco, and with high-profile CEOs such as Bronson Ingram of Ingram Industries and Raymond Zimmerman, founder of Service Merchandise. He was involved in many of their major business transactions, including the largest domestic leveraged buyout in history at its time.
Cheek was chairman of the New York Stock Exchange Legal Advisory Committee between 1989 and 1992 and of the NYSE Regulatory Auditor between 2005 and 2013. He was chairman of the Legal Advisory Board of the National Association of Securities Dealers from 1996 to 1998. He was also the chairman of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority from 2003 to 2013. He was a founding fellow and served on the board of trustees of the American College of Governance Counsel.
Dedicated to community service throughout his life, Cheek served in leadership roles in more than 10 community organizations, earning a long list of accolades for his service.
“Jim Cheek was a true friend of the law school, and we all miss him greatly,” said Randall Thomas, John S. Beasley II Professor of Law and Business, who directs the Law and Business Program.
Cheek helped create the law school’s Elliott Cheatham Scholarship fund, which was established in honor of Professor Cheatham by former students and past scholars to provide financial assistance to VLS students “who most clearly demonstrate a potential for academic achievement, a capability for assuming leadership responsibility and a dedication to the ideals of the legal profession.” Cheek remained active with the scholarship fund and mentored its student recipients.
In 2019 Cheek established the Cheek Business Law Scholarship and the Cheek Scholars Summer Stipends to provide financial support for deserving students in the Law and Business Program. Cheek Business Law Scholars are selected by a committee of Law and Business faculty and receive a supplementary annual scholarship in their second and third years of law school. Cheek Scholars Summer Stipends are available to help defray the living expenses of students in the Law and Business Program who work as summer interns with legal employers.
“Jim was one of the founding donors of the Cheatham Scholarship, which has benefitted generations of Vanderbilt Law students, and remained an active participant, attending a reunion of Cheatham donors via zoom last year,” said Scotty Mann, senior associate dean for development and alumni relations. “He also founded the Cheek Law and Business Scholarship program when he retired from the VLS faculty. Jim had a positive impact on the legal profession and on the law school throughout his career.”
Cheek is survived by his wife, Nancy J. (Nicky) Weaver, and his three sons, James Howe Cheek IV EMBA’03, Daniel Woods Cheek and Matthew Huddleston Cheek.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, at Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Cheek Business Law Scholars Program at VLS, Montgomery Bell Academy or Cheekwood.