Obituary: John Cheek

In John Cheek the Falkland Islands have lost a man who championed their cause internationally with great impact during the Argentine invasion of 1982 and promised much further service to his fellow islanders for the future. That promise has been cruelly cut short, but he has left a lasting beneficial legacy.

Though he won fame world-wide for his effective exposition of the Falklands cause in the face of Argentina's sovereignty claim, Cheek was not a man to dwell on the past. While he saw continuing strong links with Britain as a sure shield against Argentina's persistent predatory ambitions he was a determined advocate of even greater control by Falklands Islanders over their own affairs. He was anxious that new reforms to the Constitution should be in place by next year's Falklands elections. He was keen to have much more open government to keep islanders informed.

If ever the Constitution were to provide for a prime minister-type role, Cheek might well have been the first Falkland Islander to fill it, as, to all intents and purposes, he took on the role of Foreign Minister in 1982. It was in the crisis of that year, as a fairly new member of the Falklands Legislative Council, that he played an important part in the Falklands information campaign in the United Kingdom, where he was on a technical course at the time of the Argentine invasion.

John Cheek combined the rugged, self-reliant, down-to-earth qualities of the typical Falkland Islander with an international outlook which enabled him to articulate the views and hopes of the islanders to the outside world with quiet but effective oratory and personal integrity which won wide support for the Falklands' cause. He represented the islands no fewer than 12 times at the United Nations and became an accomplished television interviewee in Britain and the United States. Here was a man, patently honest and reliable, whom viewers knew instinctively they could trust.

John Cheek was not just a man of words. He was a man of action - a pragmatist in government and in business. He became one of the new breed of local entrepreneurs and businessmen, pioneering Falklands participation in the fishing industry, the basis of the islands' new-found prosperity. In 1987, with a former fellow Legislative Councillor, Stuart Wallace, he formed the Falklands' first local fishing company, Fortuna Ltd. He was impatient with early government delays in supporting development of a local fishing industry and consequent loss of revenue-raising opportunities.

As a member of the Islands Oil Management Team, he contributed level- headed practical advice as the Falklands prepared for what may prove to be another lucrative industry, with oil company exploration bids about to be given the go-ahead to search for offshore oil. He brought wise counsel to the controversial issue of negotiating last year's historical oil agreement with Argentina, arguing that an accord would encourage oil industry interest while insisting that it must in no way impinge upon Falklands' sovereignty.

In tune with overwhelming opinion in the islands, he advocated that, while Argentina continues its claims to the islands, contacts must be limited only to discussions essential to the economic well-being of the Falklands that would be normal between neighbouring nations with adjoining economic resources.

"We obviously have to be as strong as ever", he said, "in protecting our right of self- determination and lobbying to maintain our friends and gaining further support."

His qualities and strength of character were forged in his early life in the Falklands farming community, in the Antarctic, and as a Merchant Navy officer. The son of a shepherd, Fred Cheek, he was born on a remote farm at Hill Cove, in West Falklands, in 1939, and went to school in Stanley. He joined the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS), forerunner of the British Antarctic Survey, as a radio operator, and went to Antarctica at the early age of 19, serving an unusually long initial stint of three years at Hope Bay and later at Stonington Base.

He paid his own way through technical college at Colwyn Bay in North Wales to qualify as a ship's radio officer in the Merchant Navy, returning to the Falklands in 1966 to work in the Government Radio Station. He served for many years on the Legislative and Executive Councils. The day he died the Falklands Radio carried a broadcast he had recorded only the previous day on his latest actions as a Councillor.

As a member of the legislature in such a small community of only 2,000 people, he had much beneficial influence on most aspects of island life, especially education and training, health and hospitals, and the welfare of old people. Having worked closely with the London-based Falkland Islands Association in 1982, he remained a staunch supporter of its voluntary work in supporting the Falklands' right to self-determination.

When I last spoke to him a short time ago, he was full of plans for the future, despite signs that he was losing his long years of struggle against cancer. He bore his illness with characteristic courage and fortitude, travelling to Britain for treatment, fitting it in with his busy life of legislative duties and business interests.

John Cheek, businessman and local politician: born Hill Cove, Falkland Islands 18 November 1939; married Jan Biggs (two daughters); died Stanley, Falkland Islands 3 September 1996.

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