International affairs professor Daniel S. Cheever, 94, present at creation of UN charter
By his own measure, Daniel Cheever’s first four years in college were less than impressive, and he tried to understand why.
“At commencement time in 1939 my record at Harvard seemed so undistinguished that I was thoroughly depressed,’’ he wrote for the 25th anniversary report of his graduating class.
“An indifferent record is not always caused by indifference,’’ he added. “The problem was motivation - or perhaps values.’’
That changed when he landed a teaching position at St. Mark’s School in Southborough.
He liked the job, and he began courting a woman he liked even more.
“These two circumstances put study in a thoroughly different light,’’ he wrote. “I enrolled in summer school immediately after graduation and have been studying ever since.’’
Dr. Cheever, who was an assistant to Alger Hiss during the writing of the United Nations Charter and later was a professor of international relations, died Nov. 29 in Carleton-Willard Village in Bedford of complications of pneumonia.
He was 94 and had previously lived in Cambridge for many years.
“He was a very modest man, actually,’’ said his son, Daniel S. Cheever Jr., president emeritus of Simmons and Wheelock colleges. “I think he had a deep app- reciation for the fact that a lot of what happens in life is luck and some hard work and decent values.’’
At the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, where he taught for 21 years, and at Boston University’s Center for International Relations, where he was associate director and a professor in the 1980s, Dr. Cheever guided students toward careers with the State Department and Foreign Service.
He charted his own route into the field through the Navy. As a lieutenant during World War II, he was a deck officer based in Charleston, S.C., “which had an undeniable charm, despite disconcerting social and political attitudes,’’ he wrote.
Then the Navy sent Dr. Cheever to San Francisco and assigned him to work with the State Department while representatives from dozens of nations drew up the UN Charter.
“This experience was extraordinary and kindled a long-slumbering interest in foreign affairs,’’ he wrote.
His immediate supervisor was Hiss, who was later accused of spying for the Soviet Union.
“I do not pretend to understand fully the tragic events of the 1930s that later led to Hiss’s conviction for perjury,’’ Dr. Cheever wrote.
Drawn to graduate work, Dr. Cheever left his position with the State Department and returned to Harvard.
He received a master’s degree in 1947 and a doctorate in 1948, both in government. For his dissertation, he took as topics the UN Security Council and the UN Charter.
“My career has been rewarding,’’ he wrote in 1964, when he was teaching in Pittsburgh. “In the final analysis, however, the most satisfactory part of life has been domestic happiness, despite whatever sadnesses have occurred.’’
Daniel Sargent Cheever was born in Boston and grew up in the Back Bay and at his family’s summer residence in Wellesley. He was the fourth of five children whose father was a prominent surgeon.
Francis W. Sargent, a former Massachusetts governor, was a first cousin, and the writer John Cheever was a third cousin. Dr. Cheever was part of the sixth consecutive generation of men in his family to graduate from Harvard.
“He was of that rare, and even rarer now, species of old Boston families, the Boston Brahmins, but he was very forward looking,’’ his son said. “He had family portraits on the walls, and he was proud of his family history, but he was not spending his time dwelling in the past and living in the reflected glory of his ancestors. He was working hard to make the modern world a saner and safer place.’’
Dr. Cheever graduated from Milton Academy in 1935.
He met Olivia Thorndike through their families, which were acquainted in Wellesley. They married in 1940 and had three children.
She was studying economics and pursuing a master’s degree when she died of leukemia in 1954.
Two years later, Dr. Cheever married a former classmate from Milton Academy, Mary Luce Bryant, who was known as May. She died in 1998.
The two shared a love of music and singing, which Dr. Cheever had pursued all his life.
“They would write these ditties as spoofs of Gilbert and Sullivan or other well-known pieces and perform them as toasts at weddings or anniversary parties or other occasions, often complete with costumes,’’ Dr. Cheever’s son said. “They were really very well done.’’
At times, Dr. Cheever took a self-deprecating view of his talents.
In the early 1980s, after retiring from the University of Pittsburgh, moving to Cambridge, and beginning work at BU, he wrote that he was keeping up with his singing at Arlington Street Church in the Back Bay.
“I have slid from uncertain tenor-baritone to indifferent bass-baritone,’’ he noted.
“My spiritual life,’’ he wrote a dozen years ago, was “served by choral singing’’ in the choir of the Unitarian Universalist church. He was a member of the church’s governing board and the national board of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.
Dr. Cheever also was a director of the United Nations Association of Greater Boston and its counterpart in Pittsburgh and served on the national board of the local organizations. Kofi Annan, a former UN secretary general, recognized him for his work encouraging public support for the UN, Dr. Cheever’s son said.
“He was present at the creation of the UN,’’ his son said, “and he supported it vigorously all his life.’’
In addition to his son, Dr. Cheever leaves two daughters, Olivia of Needham and Holly of Voorheesville, N.Y.; his sister, Jane Cheever Lyman of Canton; six grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and two step-great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at Arlington Street Church in Boston.
Burial was private.
Dr. Cheever kept a summer cottage in Wareham, on Buzzards Bay, and remained vigorous well into old age.
“He was a very physically active man, so there wasn’t that much time for talk,’’ his son said. “He was chopping wood and fishing and sailing. He played tennis and skied well into his 80s.’’
A quarter century out of college, as Dr. Cheever paused for a moment to reflect on life, restlessness punctuated his prose. Fish might soon be biting.
“I am lucky enough to be writing this account on a fall weekend with one eye cocked on the brilliant colors surrounding the blue waters of Buzzards Bay,’’ he wrote. “A rod is leaning against the cottage door - just in case the ‘blues’ should swirl.’’
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.