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Bill Cheadle

Growing a Legacy 

Cheadle family gift keeps Vernon’s memory alive

If there were a chancellor’s hall of fame, Vernon Cheadle would hold a prominent place. As UC Santa Barbara’s leader in the 1960s and ’70s, he guided the campus through an extraordinary expansion, paving the way for the onetime teacher’s college and then-new addition to the UC system to become the true research university that it is today.

For the vital role Cheadle played in that evolution — and for the administrative superstar status he achieved — UCSB’s central administration building, Cheadle Hall, serves as a bricks-and-mortar homage. Yet it’s a lesser-known campus facility that his family says reflects his true professional passion: the Vernon and Mary Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER). 

Vernon Cheadle was a world-renowned botanist whose prolific research bookended — by decades in either direction — his time as UCSB’s top administrator. His vast collections, which include some 15,000 plants and 60,000 light microscope slides, are housed at the research and teaching center named for both him and his wife. Mary Cheadle was actively involved in campus activities during her husband’s tenure as chancellor and later as benefactor to the library and trustee of the UC Santa Barbara Foundation; together the couple were “truly a wonderful pair,” said son William “Bill” Cheadle, M.D.

“A lot of people know what he did for the campus as chief administrator but a lot of people don’t know Cheadle the botanist,” Bill Cheadle said of his father, who died in 1995. “He was a botanist for 30 years before he ever became chancellor, and he went back to it for almost 20 more years after retiring. In a way he had two different lives — one as a scientist and one as an administrator. Cheadle Hall may highlight his administrative work, but CCBER symbolizes his life’s work and his love of botany. And that’s the great thing about it.”

Seeking to safeguard his father’s scientific legacy by ensuring that CCBER survives and thrives long-term, Bill Cheadle, with his wife, Mary, has gifted the center with $1.6 million — most of which will establish an endowment meant to support its operations in perpetuity. This unique gift included cash, a pledge and a significant commitment in their estate plan.

“We just want to make it permanent,” Bill Cheadle said of CCBER, where he and wife Mary are longtime benefactors (they have also, in the past, made gifts to UCSB’s library and the campus’s soccer program). “I don’t want it to ever go away. We want to keep Dad’s legacy alive and keep people informed about what he was really like. He was just an amazing human being.”

With CCBER, Vernon Cheadle’s work lives on — and is educating students still today. There is one Gaucho in particular whose interest may run deeper than most: That’s Joseph Cheadle, son of Bill and Mary, grandson of Vernon and Mary, now in his fourth year at UCSB. Majoring in economics and math, he hasn’t had occasion to tap the center in his course of study, but he has been there to conduct research on one special subject — his grandfather.

“Growing up I heard stories about my grandfather, but he died when I was two so I didn’t know him at all,” Joseph Cheadle said. “Visiting CCBER, there is a lot of information about his life in there. Seeing that — seeing all his slides — I learned so much about him. I appreciate what he’s done now more than I ever knew. Just imagining this place, the whole campus, how it used to be, shows me how hard he worked to accomplish his goals. That’s inspiring for me.”