Bruce Heilman's 5,000 mile motorcycle trip from Virginia to Alaska this summer took him and his Harley Davidson to his 49th state. (Photo by Bob Brown/Richmond Times Dispatch)
5,000 mile motorcycle trip from Virginia to Alaska this summer took him and his
Harley Davidson to his
49th state. (Photo by Bob Brown/Richmond Times Dispatch)
At 88, Baptist educator Bruce Heilman is still taking on life
Crossing the country on his
Harley, seeking healing for fellow Greatest Generation veterans, heading top universities - for Bruce Heilman
, it's always been about doing.
A young Kentuckian and Marine Corps radio operator named E. Bruce Heilman
is one of the passengers of the R-4, which, as it begins inching into the sky, is caught by a sudden crosswind from the right.
In a terrifying instant, Heilman
and others realize that cargo has been improperly stored, and begins to shift in flight.
Heilman, a Baptist who would go on to become president and then chancellor of the University of Richmond, remembers bracing for the inevitable fire ball that was sure to engulf them.
had seen it many times during the Pacific war.
"Ninety-nine times out of 100 the plane would have caught on fire and nobody would have gotten out," Heilman
, now 88, says.
To be sure, there were broken wings, a crumpled fuselage, lots of broken glass and the noise of smashed metal settling.
But there was no fire.
Yes, but Heilman
also is a believer in prayer mixed with common sense and action.
"Fortunately, our pilot had enough sense, when the wing hit the ground, to cut the engine and that saved our lives."
As if that weren't enough of a scare and adventure for a lifetime, Heilman
, like other Americans in uniform at that time, would have plenty more scrapes to endure.
Among other far-flung Pacific locations, his
service took him to the battle of Okinawa and later to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
No wonder, then, that Heilman
will not be deterred from his
annual solo motorcycle tour.
left for his
last trip - a 5,000-miler from Virginia to Alaska - on June 8.
As usual there were plenty of family, friends and media looking on, including fellow members of First Baptist Church in Richmond.
"They always say 'we wish you wouldn't go,'" Heilman
says a couple of days before departing on his
1,200-pound Harley Davidson.
They see a man approaching his
90s heading out into a nation teeming with traffic, construction and glaciers.
sees Marines struggling up Mount Surabachi, he
sees radioactive Hiroshima dust on his
GI boots, and he
remembers the plane crash that didn't kill him.
it's always been about doing.
married and in short order there were mouths to feed - five children.
went to school - and with gusto.
attended schools like Peabody College, the universities of Omaha, Kentucky and Tennessee, and what is now Campbellsville University
Along the way he
picked up bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees - and all without a high school diploma.
discovered a knack for teaching and especially for helping others teach.
Those discoveries led to a career in higher education administration that culminated in university presidencies and renown as a premier fundraiser.
He was president of Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., before becoming president of the University of Richmond in 1971 - a post he held until he became chancellor in 1986.
tenure as UR's president, he
boosted its endowment by $200 million.
says such accomplishments were all about relationships - building and keeping them.
Those who saw him at work say it was also sheer energy.
"He was all over the country raising money for the university," says David Burhans, special assistant for advancement at UR and a former university chaplain who worked under Heilman for decades.
Nothing has really changed for Heilman
In June, he
embarked on his
Patriot edition Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic for a 5,000-mile ride from Richmond to Alaska.
had more than sightseeing on the agenda: stops were planned in places like Louisville and Kansas City to see old friends and colleagues - and to seek contributions from University of Richmond
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