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Remembering Dr. H. William Heller

In Memoriam

Dr. H. William Heller (1935-2020)

Dr. Heller enjoyed a successful career in academia in special education, as a doctoral student at the University of Northern Colorado (Ed.D. Degree 1964), a faculty member at Indiana State University, University of Alabama (faculty member & Associate Dean), UNC Charlotte (Dean), the University of South Florida at St. Pete (Dean & Chief Executive Officer), and the Florida State Legislature. Within special education he was heavily invested in CEC and the Teacher Education Division (TED), serving as President of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children (1975-1976). Dr. Heller was awarded a Presidential citation for exemplary performance as vice chairman of the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals (1977). He was the second recipient of the TED/Merrill Excellence in Teacher Education Award (1981 presented in New York City), appointed to the University of Northern Colorado’s Hall of Fame as one of their top 100 graduates in the University’s 100-year history (1989), recipient of the J. E. Wallace Wallin Award for lifetime achievement (1991, CEC’s highest honor), and Recipient of CEC’s Outstanding Leadership Award (2006).

Much of what UNC Charlotte, College of Education, and specifically the Department of Special Education and Child Development have become is due to the influence of Bill Heller where he served as Dean, College of the College of Education (formerly College of Education and Allied Professions) 1979-1992. As Dean, he hired many outstanding early-career faculty (e.g., Lee Sherry, Terry Rose, Dave Test, Nancy Cooke, Mary Lynne Calhoun, Richard White, Bob Algozzine, Ron Anderson, Melba Spooner). The Snyder Distinguished Professorship was created during Dr. Heller’s tenure based on educational services offered to the Snyder family and their child with a disability. This distinguished professorship assisted with the start of the doctoral program in Special Education accepting its first-class 2001.

Prior to coming to UNC Charlotte, he was on the faculty at the University of Alabama (Roll TIDE!!!), where he served as Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research for the College of Education. During his tenure at Alabama, he went to Bryce Hospital, Tuscaloosa, AL, a psychiatric facility, as Acting Superintendent at the request of the President of the University of Alabama and the Governor to oversee the implementation of the Wyatt vs. Stickney (1972) decision on the right to appropriate treatment for persons with mental illness and intellectual disability (ID) who resided at Bryce and Partlow State Hospitals (Tuscaloosa, facility for those with ID).

Prior to going to Alabama, Dr. Heller served as Branch Chief, Division of Personnel Preparation, Bureau of Education for the Handicapped (BEH), Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). With that experience, he learned a lot about what made a fundable grant application in the area of personnel development, a skill set that was shared with many, and assisted UNC Charlotte in developing a quality special education program.

In 1992 Dr. Heller left UNC Charlotte to be Dean and Chief Executive Officer, University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Much of what the University of South Florida St. Pete has become can be attributed to Dr. Heller’s influence. The university credits him with helping transform the St. Petersburg campus from a small, commuter school serving only upperclassmen and graduate students to the place it is today, with more than 4,000 students. During her doctoral program at the University of South Florida, Tampa Campus, Dr. Heller served at Karen Voytecki’s advisor. The school named its College of Education building after him in May 2019.

He represented the St. Petersburg area in the Florida House of Representatives as a Democrat from 2006 to 2010. While he was in St. Pete he also served on many societal boards. For example, he served as President of the Board of Bayfront Medical Center, Chair of the Pinellas Cultural Foundation, a Board Member Emeritus of the Mahaffey Theater Foundation, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Great Explorations Children’s Museum, President of the SPCA of Tampa Bay, among numerous other organizations.

In summary, Dr. Heller has been a distinguished leader who has directed people by example. Wherever he has been he has had a positive effect on the people with whom he works. He alters environments (e.g., departments, colleges, and campuses) and impacts people in a very positive way. He is in the truest sense of the word, a gentleman and a scholar. Dr. Heller passed away on September 11, 2020, in St. Peterburg, FL.

Posted:  2 February, 2021

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