Philip Cheney, respected mentor and faculty

Philip Cheney, respected mentor and faculty

By Jenna Duncan, News Staff

Philip W. Cheney, 74, senior consultant for corporate and government partnerships for the Center of Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems (CenSSIS) at the College of Engineering, died at Saints Memorial Medical Center in Lowell May 25.

After spending 40 years at the Raytheon Company, Dr. Cheney retired from his post as vice president of engineering in 2001. However, he wanted to keep working. In 2003 he returned to work force, joining Northeastern not only as a part of CenSSIS, but also as a visiting professor, engineering executive in residence. He also taught an engineering leadership course for the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program.

“It was just a wonderful match for him in his retirement,” said his wife of 52 years, Leslie Cheney. “He enjoyed working with all the students so much. He loved teaching them. He had classes on Monday and Wednesdays and he would go from 8 to 10 and he just loved that class. It was so much fun for him.”

The cause of Dr. Cheney’s death was not officially determined, but his wife said doctors believed he had a blood clot.

Dr. Cheney was no stranger to academia, and held a Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in electrical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D in electrical engineering from Stanford University. But his Northeastern colleagues said the transition to working in higher education was difficult but exciting for him.

“When Phil first started working at Northeastern, he often was amazed at the differences between academic and industry cultures,” engineering professor Carey Rappaport said in an e-mail to The News. “He did eventually come around, figuring out how to motivate research professors … not with force or finance, but with challenges and recognition. He was genuinely impressed with some of the research results at CenSSIS. And it was always the best compliment to have Phil, as the former head of research at Raytheon, to say that something we had done was ‘pretty neat.'”

Students he mentored in the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program also said they adored compliments from Dr. Cheney, who they described as very level-headed and intelligent.

“One of the things Phil was known for among the students and in the program was his ability to remain calm and confident in any situation,” said Corey Lloyd, who graduated in 2007 with an electrical engineering degree, and returned to Northeastern for the leadership program. “Regardless of if the program looked like it was going to go over budget or needing to solve a technical problem, he’d be leaning back in his chair smiling saying ‘We’ll make it work.’ That’s a classic Phil line – we’ll make it work. And we always did, and it was always with his help we were able to make it work.”

Aside from the students, he also connected with the staff his wife said.

“I just want to thank everybody at Northeastern for making him feel welcome there, and for becoming really good friends and that was really nice,” she said. “He made some very good friends there and he really enjoyed them.”

Along with his wife, Dr. Cheney leaves two sons, Stephen and Christopher of Marblehead; a daughter, Pamela, of Wellesley; and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Friday, June 11, at 2 p.m. at Trinitarian Congregational Church, 54 Walden St., Concord, with a reception after the service. Gifts in his name may be given to Emerson Hospital, 133 ORNAC, Concord, MA 01742.

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