Positively Influential

Jack Heise 1924-2009

Maryland Alumnus, Longtime Booster And Devout Fan Was With The Terps, 'Win Or Lose'

October 08, 2009|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK -- Jack Heise's final letter arrived in Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen's office on Wednesday, two days after Mr. Heise's death.

Mr. Friedgen fought back his emotions as he read it, hardly believing that Mr. Heise - a longtime Terrapins benefactor, alumnus and devout fan known as "Mr. Maryland" - would no longer be around to pen the upbeat, handwritten letters that had arrived faithfully every week for the nine seasons Mr. Friedgen has been coach.

"Keep this winning up with a big win against the Deacons. Play hard, good luck - Jack," the last letter said.

Men's basketball coach Gary Williams, who received similar notes, believed that Mr. Heise, one of the top donors to Maryland athletics and a courtside-seat holder, wrote the messages to try to keep coaches optimistic, particularly after wrenching losses.

"He'd say things to pump you up," Mr. Williams said. "It's like he was trying to get you ready for the next game. Jack was with you, win or lose."

The Baltimore-born Mr. Heise, a semiretired Bethesda attorney, was 84 when he collapsed and died Monday night of a cranial hemorrhage after driving home from a dinner honoring Marvin Perry, a fellow Terrapins booster who died in 2006.

"I'm not sure all the kids today really know who he [Mr. Heise] is," Mr. Friedgen said. "I'm going to put his initials on our helmets for the rest of the season."

For decades, Mr. Heise had been as much a staple of Maryland athletics as Testudo, the turtle mascot. Mr. Heise, who graduated from the school in 1947 and married a former Terrapins cheerleader, worshipped all things Maryland. He had attended almost every football and men's basketball game, home and away, for more than 60 years. The school said he missed only three Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournaments since 1946. And that wasn't all.

"It would be nothing for him to hit three different sports in one day. He felt terrible if he couldn't support every single team," said Johnny Holliday, the Terrapins' radio broadcaster.

Mr. Heise missed Maryland's opening football game on Sept. 5 at California. "He made a point of saying to me, 'I can't go there because that's my [60th] wedding anniversary,' " Mr. Holliday said. "I said, 'Jack, you've got to take care of that one or you won't be going to any more games at all.' But I can't remember any other games that he missed."

In an era in which other schools' boosters often become best known for trying to unseat struggling coaches, Mr. Heise was relentlessly positive. It was because of Mr. Heise's soft demeanor that Maryland coaches never seemed to regard his interest as meddling. Rather, they wanted him at practices and on charter flights to games.

Mr. Heise was a fixture at football practices, often watching from Mr. Friedgen's golf cart.

Mr. Williams said he made sure that the basketball managers looked after Mr. Heise on road trips, particularly in his later years.

"I wanted Jack to feel almost like he was a player on the team," Mr. Williams said. "Maybe the one thing he wanted would have been being a basketball player. I always said, 'Jack, you're one of us.' "

Mr. Heise's son, Jeff, 52, a Chicago businessman, said the family would never have considered trying to curtail his father's travels because "that kept him young. We felt very, very comfortable with him traveling with the team because Gary Williams and the managers took care of him. He would take the managers out for dinner in return."

Mr. Heise had been a student manager as an undergraduate. His son said he "did not have the athletic talent to play basketball," although he played competitive lacrosse.

Mr. Heise was a member of the Terrapin Club Lifetime Giving Society, which means he was a top donor, giving more than $250,000.

The school declined to say exactly how much he had contributed. He was a former Terrapin Club president, M Club president, Maryland Alumni Association president and was inducted into the Maryland Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007.

Despite his status, Mr. Heise told The Baltimore Sun in March that "the hiring and firing of coaches is not up to boosters."

He was a defender of Mr. Williams, saying the coach "built Comcast Center because of what he had accomplished." The arena opened in the fall of 2002 after Mr. Williams had coached the Terps to a national championship and a Final Four in successive seasons.

Mr. Heise was born in Baltimore on Dec. 13, 1924, and attended City College. His wife, the former Jackie Mosey Morley, is a 1949 Maryland graduate.

Mr. Heise is also survived by his other children: John, 57; Liane, 55; and Suzanne, 50; and nine grandchildren.

A viewing is scheduled for today from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Potomac. A memorial service will be held Friday at 11 a.m., at the University of Maryland Memorial Chapel.

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