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Dr. E. Bruce Heilman, Campbellsville Junior College alumnus and CU Board of Trustee member, dies at 93

Dr. E. Bruce Heilman, Campbellsville Junior College 1949 alumnus and Campbellsville University Board of Trustees member as well as chancellor at the University of Richmond, died Saturday, Oct. 19. He was 93.

Heilman served as a member of the Campbellsville University Board of Trustees for over 25 years. He was the driving force for the construction of the E. Bruce Heilman Student Complex with a third building being planned.

Dr. Michael V. Carter, president of Campbellsville University, said, “Heilman has distinguished himself as a higher education leader, scholar and Christian servant. There are no words adequate to express our love and respect for him – he is the very essence of what it means to be a Christian servant leader, what it means to be one of the ‘greatest generation,’ and what it means to be one who loved and lived for his faith, family and country.

“Certainly, my life and time as the CU president have been greatly influenced by having Dr. Heilman as a mentor and friend. The innumerable ways in which Dr. Heilman, and his dear wife, the late Mrs. Betty Dobbins Heilman, have contributed to Campbellsville University and Christian higher education, are historic and significant.

“Not only a giant in Baptist higher education, Dr. E. Bruce Heilman was a giant among men! He will be missed.”

Carter remembered when Heilman spoke at the 2018 commencement, when he presented his grandson, Nicholas van der Meer, with a diploma: “To hear Dr. Heilman is such a joy, and we were excited he was able to share his life stories to our students both at the commencement and at various chapels.”

Heilman was the force behind numerous development policies at many board meetings. He himself contributed $1 million for the third building on campus that will have his name; he also secured another $1 million from a friend toward the building.

The Betty Dobbins Heilman House is the president’s home on campus, and the Betty Dobbins Heilman Student Wellness Center was dedicated July 13, 2019. These buildings are named for his wife, the late Betty Dobbins Heilman, who was a 1948 graduate of Campbellsville Junior College.

“Dr. Bruce Heilman was one of the most dedicated and talented educators that I have ever known. He was one of the most appreciative and successful graduates of Campbellsville University,” Dr. Kenneth W. Winters, president of Campbellsville University from 1988 until 1999, said.

“He has mentored many new presidents during his career in higher education and served as a friend to thousands of students. It has been my sincere honor to have served with this dedicated leader during my time at Campbellsville University and beyond.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to Dr. Bruce Heilman’s family during this time of loss.”

Heilman attended most of the trustee meetings at Campbellsville University and usually sat in the same seat as he listened and gave his opinions on matters of the university and her students.

Heilman with his motorcycle (Photo from CU)

Heilman was presented a motorcycle on his and his wife’s 50th wedding anniversary. Heilman was 72, and Mrs. Heilman said, “You’re finally old enough to have a motorcycle.”

He still famously rode across the United States and Alaska, in his 80s and 90s, representing the Greatest Generation Foundation, being joined by veterans’ groups throughout America.

Heilman joined the United States Marine Corps at the age of 17. After serving in the Marines, he came home to LaGrange, Ky. and, using the G.I. Bill, found his way to Campbellsville Junior College. Here he met a young woman who was working in the cafeteria and asked her for a second piece of chocolate pie. She told him she couldn’t do that, but she gave him her piece.

At the age of 21, Bruce proposed to this pie lady, Betty June Dobbins, and they were married on Aug. 27, 1948 when Dr. Heilman was a freshman at Campbellsville.

Otto Tennant, senior vice president for operations and administration at Campbellsville University, said, “I was always excited when Dr. Heilman came to campus because he was always so excited. He wanted to know what was new and what we had going on.

“He and Betty were like kids coming onto campus, and she always brought me a can of those Virginia peanuts. They were both very thoughtful.”

Tennant said, “I had the utmost respect for Dr. Heilman in many, many ways. He made connections with everyone despite any age differences. We thought he would be here forever.

“Who else is in their 90’s riding a Harley?”

Dr. W.R. Davenport, president of Campbellsville College from 1969 until 1988, said, “Dr. Heilman was the university’s greatest benefactor. The Lord has used him to be responsible for millions of dollars.”

Davenport said Heilman was also “a wonderful friend and supporter to me. He will be greatly missed.”

Benji Kelly, vice president for development at the university, made many visits to Richmond, Va., and met with Heilman to discuss the many fundraising projects in which he was involved.

“Dr. Heilman was a great man,” Kelly said. “He was always an encourager and looked for the best in people. Campbellsville University has been blessed because of all that he and the Heilman family have done for his alma mater.”

Heilman became chancellor at the University of Richmond on Oct.1, 1988 after serving as president and chief executive officer for approximately 17 years. Prior to beginning his long association with the University of Richmond in 1971, he had served as president of Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. from 1966.

Heilman in his Marine Corps uniform (Photo from CU)

A U.S. Marine during the World War II Pacific Campaign, Heilman served as a spokesman for The Greatest Generations Foundation which, since 2004, has paid homage to the American War Veterans who fought in both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam.

After his service in the U.S. Marine Corps, he received his bachelor of arts, master of arts and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.

He was educated at Campbellsville Junior College, George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, the University of Omaha, the University of Kentucky and the University of Tennessee. His bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees are from Peabody College with majors in business administration, higher education administration and English.

Before his presidencies, he held teaching positions and served as chief business and financial officer at several colleges and universities as well as vice president of administration at George Peabody College, vice president and dean of Kentucky Southern College and coordinator of higher education for the State of Tennessee.

He holds honorary degrees from Campbellsville University, University of Richmond, Wake Forest University, Kentucky Wesleyan College, Campbell University, James Madison University, Bridgewater College, College of the Ozarks and an honorary professorship from Tatung Institute of Technology in Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China.

Heilman has taught at Belmont University, Kentucky Wesleyan College and George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University.

Heilman is a founding member of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, an emeritus board member and former chairman of the Board of Marine Military Academy in Texas, member of the Board of Visitors and past chairman of the Board of the Marine Corps University at Quantico, secretary of the Board of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and member of the Marines’ Memorial Association.

He has also served on the Advisory Review Board of the Service Academies, the board of directors of the National Defense University Foundation Inc. and was a member of the board of directors of the Virginia War Memorial Educational Foundation.

His autobiography “An Interruption That Lasted a Lifetime: My First Eighty Years” was published in September 2008.

He was married to the late Betty June Dobbins, a 1948 Campbellsville graduate. They have five children, including Tim Heilman, who serves as director of development at Campbellsville University; Bobbie Heilman Murphy, Nancy Heilman Cale, Terry Heilman Sylvester, Sandy Heilman Kuehl and Tim Heilman, 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

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