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Columbia Missourian

Paul Cheavens loved family, church, police chief job

By Hank Koebler
November 13, 2012 | 9:31 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Former Columbia Police Department Chief Paul Cheavens oversaw a time of great social and cultural upheaval, but he was known for facing those challenges with great integrity.

“I think some of the situations he faced would’ve been difficult for other people,” his son, Stephen Cheavens, said. “For him, it wasn’t a difficult thing. He never wavered. He always seemed to take the high road and do what he thought was the right thing whether it was popular or not.”

Paul Cheavens of Columbia died Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, of respiratory complications related to pneumonia. He was 88.

He was born Dec. 21, 1923, in southern Boone County, near what is now Sapp.

Mr. Cheavens served as the Columbia police chief from 1954 to 1975. Stephen Cheavens said the time period of his father’s tenure provided many obstacles.

“If you look back at what was going on in the ‘60s, especially in college towns, there were a tremendous number of cultural changes happening,” Stephen Cheavens said. “Even though Columbia’s in the Midwest and we like to think we’re immune to the problems we see in metropolitan areas, at that particular time, some of the things we saw in Columbia and on campus were not too different from other parts of the United States.”

Mr. Cheavens’ 21 years as chief was the most time anyone spent in the position in the Columbia Police Department’s history, according to news release from the police department.

Stephen Cheavens said he remembers his father not for his career accomplishments but for his strength of character.

“He was a compassionate person, and he probably had more honesty and integrity than anybody I’ve met in my 60-plus years,” Stephen Cheavens said. “And I’ve been around some outstanding people.”

Although his job as police chief required a substantial time commitment, Mr. Cheavens made sure his family received plenty of his time and attention as well. Stephen Cheavens said his father made a point of spending time with him and his sister, ensuring he was present for a family dinner every night.

Mr. Cheavens was widely commended for his work, but Stephen Cheavens said "he tried very hard not to bring his work home with him."

In addition to family, church was also important to Mr. Cheavens. He was a member of Nashville Baptist Church in southern Boone County, located within a couple miles of the farm where he was raised. He also was a founding member of Countryside Baptist Church in Columbia.

“It’s been a centerpiece of his life from his boyhood up until he was hospitalized in September,” Stephen Cheavens said. “It’s been an important part of his life and my mother’s, and when we were growing up, by extension, a part of ours as well.”

Even in his later years, Mr. Cheavens always kept an upbeat demeanor, Stephen Cheavens said. Shortly after Stephen Cheavens moved back to Columbia, Mr. Cheavens suffered a stroke in the early 2000s. Stephen Cheavens said his father did not let the stroke dampen his spirits.

“It didn’t change his attitude or his sense of humor,” Stephen Cheavens said. “His physical abilities were somewhat limited after that. But, he made what I would call an astonishing recovery from that and worked really hard to get back as much mobility and as much dexterity as he could. Even in these last two months with his illness, he never lost his sense of humor."

Stephen Cheavens said he and his family have received a large amount of calls and support from well-wishers who knew his father. He called the community's support of his family "overwhelming" and said the phone hadn't stopped ringing. He expected a large turnout for the visitation and funeral services.

“He just had a zest for life and a great sense of humor,” Stephen Cheavens said. "I’d say his work ethic and his honesty and integrity were a great example not only to his family but to almost everybody he came in contact with.”

Mr. Cheavens is survived by his wife, Olive Cheavens, and his children, Stephen Cheavens and Debra Goodwin.

Services will be Friday at the Nashville Baptist Church in Ashland.

The Columbia Police Department will pay its respects to Cheavens by assisting the family at the funeral, according to the release.