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Businessman and philanthropist Carroll Cheek dies at 92

Carroll Cheek, 92, flew 33 combat missions in a B-24 bomber during World War II, mostly over Germany.

Carroll Cheek, 92, flew 33 combat missions in a B-24 bomber during World War II, mostly over Germany.

CLEARWATER — Carroll Cheek's family says he didn't have hobbies, and it's easy to believe. The volume of his work in business and civic life left little time for frivolous pursuits.

He helped create Cheek-Powell Heart and Vascular Institute and the Susan Cheek Needler Breast Center at Morton Plant Hospital. Starting in the 1970s, his grocery stores dotted the West Florida landscape, including Mr. C's Warehouse locations in Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

His close associations with other entrepreneurs, including drugstore magnate Jack Eckerd, led to gifts and hands-on management. As board president of Ruth Eckerd Hall, he turned a $690,000 deficit in 1990 into a $42,000 surplus a year later. His contributions also benefited Eckerd College, the Florida Orchestra and numerous foundations.

His friendship with Bernie Powell, the former owner of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, resulted in the heart institute.

Mr. Cheek, a war hero, retired businessman and philanthropist, died Monday as a result of heart disease and Parkinson's disease, his family said. He was 92.

"Carroll was what I would call a heavyweight," said Dr. Paul Phillips, a longtime Morton Plant Mease Foundation board member and past chairman. "He didn't just sit on the board to be recognized or to pad his resume. He told people what he thought and he got things done."

Holly Duncan, the foundation's president and chief executive officer, called Mr. Cheek a "quintessential philanthropist."

"He asked all the hard questions, but he also participated in the solution," she said.

Before moving to Clearwater permanently in the 1980s, Mr. Cheek had achieved success with a restaurant, a banking company and a string of accounting offices in his native Ohio. He got into the supermarket business in the early 1960s, opening about 20 stores before bringing at least two brands, Great Scot and Mr. C's Warehouse, to Florida.

In retirement, he worked hard to do something good with what he had acquired.

"You're only a custodian of your wealth while you're here on earth," he said in 2005. "You have a responsibility to give it back to the people you earned it from."

Carroll Wright Cheek was born in 1921 in Columbus, Ohio, the son of a Presbyterian minister. By early adolescence, he was earning more chopping wood or selling apples or newspapers than his father made from the pulpit.

"He tried to emulate the good qualities of my grandfather, but clearly recognized the lack of success in the business area," said Michael Cheek, 64, Mr. Cheek's son.

Mr. Cheek flew 33 combat missions in a B-24 bomber during World War II, mostly over Germany. He was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and earned the Air Medal five times.

After the war, he started a restaurant with his wife, the former Mabel Smith, and earned a master's degree in business from the University of Michigan.

They had three children. In the mid 1990s, daughter Susan Needler died of breast cancer at 51. "Her death had a deep impact," his son said.

By then, Mr. Cheek had cultivated a friendship with Powell, who had also lost a daughter to breast cancer. In 1996, the two men teamed to donate more than $3 million to create the Cheek-Powell Heart and Vascular Pavilion at Morton Plant.

Mr. Cheek also donated $1.4 million to help start the Susan Cheek Needler Breast Center, which opened in 2002 at the Powell Cancer Center in Morton Plant.

In 2006, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce named Carroll and Mabel Cheek Mr. and Mrs. Clearwater for their philanthropy and leadership.

Those honors and others have been well deserved, colleagues say.

"You talk about the Greatest Generation?" Duncan said. "That's it."


Carroll Wright Cheek

Born: March 31, 1921

Died: May 27, 2013

Survivors: wife, Mabel; son, Michael Cheek; daughter, Dr. Kathleen Cheek-Milby; six grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

Businessman and philanthropist Carroll Cheek dies at 92 05/30/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 30, 2013 10:55pm]
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