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Remembering: Dr. John Cheng

“Character is not developed in a crisis, it is only exhibited.”

A year ago the unthinkable happened: losing a brother, friend, husband, and father at the place of comfort — a church. Dr. John Cheng (BA ‘91) died a hero when he tackled a gunman who entered Laguna Woods, California’s Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in May 2022.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes told KBTX, following the shooting, Cheng jumped in and attempted to disarm the gunman, who fatally shot him.

“Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, there is no doubt that there would be numerous additional victims in this crime,” Sheriff Don Barnes said.

Cheng was a husband and father of two who actively volunteered within his community to share his love of medicine and martial arts.

During his time at Baylor, Cheng was a member of the Kappa Omega Tau fraternity, KOT, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree before pursuing medical school at Texas Tech. He completed his residency at UCLA and was the Medical Director of the South Coast Medical Group in South Orange County. He encouraged his staff to always approach a client with care and attention to the person as a whole.

“He was indeed [a] light to the very end — to professional athletes as their official doctor, his community, his medical practice patients, his martial arts academy clients, his church family, and friends. John was a rock star making Christ more famous one person at a time with every genuine, loving, caring and kind interaction he had with each person God brought in his path,” Heidy McWhorter (BBA ‘93) said.

History professor Stephen Sloan (BBA ‘90, MA ‘98) bonded with Cheng early on during their time together in KOT over their East Texas roots.

“I’m from Henderson and he was from Marshall, and we kind of bonded over both being from East Texas,” Sloan said. “John was really friendly, a lot of fun to be around. In the summer of ‘89, I stayed that summer to take classes and John stayed as well. It was during that summer that we got to spend a lot of time together and have fun.”

Sloan explained that when he heard the news of Cheng’s heroic death, he wept. Cheng was the lone person killed in the shooting at Geneva Presbyterian Church, where the Taiwanese church held services.

“We’ve become desensitized to these acts of violence, but when it touches someone you have a relationship with and admire so much, it’s devastating to know that it is real,” Sloan said. “As details began to emerge and folks in the church began to put together what happened, at that point, you think ‘Of course John would have done that.’”

Sloan serves as the current KOT faculty advisor and reminds each new member class about Cheng’s legacy and story. He said while he misses his friend, he is proud of his bravery and story.

“I tell every new member class about John’s quotes that he used back when he was in the club– ‘Character is not developed in a crisis, it is only exhibited,’” Sloan said. “We can all say quotes like that, but John faced the ultimate crisis where he fully exhibited his character and the kind of person he had become. I want the new members to understand that I hope they’re never placed in that circumstance, but I also want them to grow in character to be the type of men who would make that choice in that circumstance.”

Baylor awarded Dr. John Cheng the Distinguished Achievement Award posthumously this year. Sloan hopes to find a permanent way to memorialize the life of Dr. John Cheng on Baylor’s campus.

“As a historian we can write these things to be appreciated and read for now, but I hope there’s some sort of manifested reminder on campus as well,” Sloan said.

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