Dr. Martin “Mac” Cheever’s heart was always in the right place, said Linda Cheever, his wife of 49 years.
A longtime Mercer Island resident, “Mac” made his mark in the medical world as a physician-scientist who was a pioneer in the development of lifesaving immunotherapies, according to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Following a high-risk heart surgery months earlier, “Mac” died on Sept. 23 at the age of 77.
“Mac” had an immense impact on his family, friends and whoever else he came into contact with in and out of his Fred Hutch workplace in Seattle, where he still worked full time up until his passing.
“‘Mac’ was a very kind person and was always willing to share advice and help with any friend or family member dealing with a health challenge. It could be a friend of a friend of a friend seeking help, and he would be willing to do whatever he could to help,” said Linda, adding that “Mac” was an active tennis player and electric bike rider who had tackled most of the 285-mile Palouse to Cascade Trail.
Islander Lou Glass, who worked in the medical realm as a nurse, played a ton of doubles tennis with “Mac” over the years in their tennis group at the Mercer Island Country Club. Glass was inspired by what “Mac” had achieved during his medical career and said his friend was passionate about his cancer research.
Glass noted that his medical professional friends were jealous that he played tennis with “Mac” and knew him personally. They said that Cheever was a genius.
“If the world was populated by a high percentage of ‘Mac’ Cheever clones, I believe we’d have heaven on earth,” Glass said. “He was modest, brilliant, sensitive, generous to a fault with his time and efforts for the good of others. I knew ‘Mac’ as a dedicated family man with a wonderfully wry sense of humor. I never, ever, heard anyone utter a negative word about him. His contributions to science and medicine are monumental.”
“Mac,” an oncologist, began his career in the earliest days of Fred Hutch, according to a story on its website, and his laboratory studies in the late 1970s convincingly showed the immune system might be harnessed to stop cancer. In 2007, with grants from the National Cancer Institute, he established the Hutch-headquartered Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Network and was its director and principal investigator.
“‘Mac’ was witty, a little bemused by life. He was very modest about his accomplishments. He had a very pragmatic view and would not get carried away by heated arguments — he was usually a moderating voice,” said Dr. Fred Appelbaum, executive vice president and deputy director of Fred Hutch, on the institution’s website.
Linda and “Mac” met at the University of Michigan on a blind date in 1967. In 1970, they moved to Seattle, where he began his internship at the University of Washington Medical School, and they married in 1972.
The Cheevers moved to Mercer Island in 1986 and raised their two sons, Alex and Paul, on the Island. The boys attended Island schools from elementary through high school and held leadership roles and played in high school bands.
Upon meeting “Mac” when she was 19, Linda knew she had connected with someone special.
“He stood out for me amongst his peers for his maturity, integrity, discipline and studiousness. However, he also was drawn to adventure and spent his fourth year of medical school in Uganda where he became interested in infectious disease and cancer,” said Linda, adding that she always had the highest respect for “Mac.”
Linda said “Mac” returned to Uganda as a gift for his 70th birthday to help celebrate the grand opening of the new joint Fred Hutchinson-Uganda Cancer Institute.
A memorial celebration of his life for family members and friends is tentatively planned for spring 2022. His family suggests donations in his name be made to Fred Hutch, the Medic One Foundation or the Palouse to Cascades Trail Coalition.