Former Mayor Pro Tem James Larry Cheek honored with Long Leaf Pine award

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SILER CITY — Commissioners gathered on Monday for their first regular meeting of the new year, where they honored former Mayor Pro Tem James Larry Cheek, who died in office while serving on Siler City’s Board of Commissioners.

Cheek — who served on the board of commissioners for over 17 years — was posthumously recognized with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, the highest award given to a civilian in North Carolina. According to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine website, the award is reserved for “persons who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.”

Cheek died on May 26, 2020.

Chatham’s State Senator Valerie Foushee and state Rep. Robert Reives II endorsed Cheek’s case for receiving the award. Reives presented the award to Cheek’s widow, Alphia Cheek, during Monday’s meeting.

“I think all of us were touched by Larry Cheek in some way,” Reives said.

The state representative knew Cheek and his wife through Reives’s family, and when Reives was sworn into office, he said Cheek became a mentor to him.

“He had to take another role with me at that point,” he said. “He put me on a crash course to learn something about politics here in Chatham County.”

Reives was not the only one impacted by Cheek. He said the commissioner would always take time to listen to concerned residents, no matter the situation.

“I don’t care where I saw him, I don’t care where anybody saw him, it was not just for me — if anybody stopped and talked to him, he stopped, he sat and he listened,” Reives said.

Cheek’s wife, Alphia, also made remarks to the board Monday. She said her late husband had a passion for Siler City that motivated his work.

“He loved this town, and he loved this board,” she said.

She thanked the members of the board and town staff who went on to write letters to Gov. Roy Cooper, urging him to bestow the posthumous award to Cheek.

“I know this is not an easy feat and it took recommendations and letters on the behalf of others to get such an amazing award,” she said.

Letters to Cooper were sent by Foushee, Reives, Chatham County Commissioner Mike Dasher and Siler City Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Bray.

Bray said Cheek deserved the recognition for his 17 years of service to Siler City.

“He would always say he took an oath for the whole town, not just District II,” she wrote. “We have missed him so much and hope to honor him with this award.”

Alphia Cheek said honoring her husband with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award was a perfect way to commemorate his service to Siler City, and that he would have loved to be able accept the award.

“This is such a magnificent addendum to Larry’s rich legacy, and everything that he did,” she said. “He did everything with honor, he did it with love, and honesty. He did love Siler City, and he loved people.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com.

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