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Harold Heye, benefactor of Ruth Eckerd Hall and Morton Plant Hospital, dies at 87

Heye, 87, gave to Ruth Eckerd and Morton Plant.
Heye, 87, gave to Ruth Eckerd and Morton Plant.
Published Apr. 26, 2013

BELLEAIR — Harold Heye and his wife had only one stipulation 30 years ago when they made their donation to the group overseeing the creation of what would become Ruth Eckerd Hall.

According to a Jan. 2, 1984 article in the Evening Independent, they asked that the gift not receive "too much publicity.''

And so leading up to the grand opening, the only place the entity announced the creation of the Margarete Heye Great Room, named after Harold's mother, was in a brochure about the center.

"The family's gift was not intended to be a public statement, but it was to honor Margarete, who also was involved in the community,'' said Stephanie Smith, the chief development officer for Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Heye, whose efforts also helped in the expansion of Morton Plant Hospital and the development of Island Estates, died Monday

Harold Heye was born May 25, 1925, in Dusseldorf, Germany. Harold's parents, Hans and Margarete, moved the family to Holland when he was 8. Hans, an entrepreneur, had grown concerned over the rise of Hitler, according to Harold's stepson, John Gerlach of Belleair.

By the time Harold was 15, the family had moved to Florida. He joined the Army at 19.

"He still spoke mostly German, and so you can imagine how difficult this would have been,'' Gerlach said.

Heye went on to serve in the Pacific Theatre on Kwajalein and the initial assaults on Leyte Island and Okinawa.

"He made it clear that in the military, he met some very good men, and for him, when you call it the Greatest Generation, it was true,'' Gerlach said. "It was part of why he went on to live his life the way he did here. He believed strongly in creating the best community.''

Along with managing the family trust created by his father, Heye became involved in the ownership of the High and Dry Marina, Island Yacht Harbor and Pier 60, all in Clearwater.

But his sense of stewardship is what Ruth Eckerd Hall's Smith thinks of when asked to describe Heye.

"His main goal was to support organizations that built a culturally and resource-rich community,'' she said. "And when he became committing to doing something, he was all in.''

At the time of Ruth Eckerd Hall's creation, Heye and his family were focused on bringing a premier venue here, Smith said.

"Before Ruth Eckerd, the local symphony group was performing out of a high school auditorium,'' she said.

Heye's involvement with Morton Plant Hospital stretches back to the 1950s, when he served for several years on the board of directors, according to Holly Duncan, president and chief executive officer of the Morton Plant Mease Foundation.

One project of particular importance to him was the construction of the Roebling Building, now the site of Morgan Heart Hospital. "He helped Morton Plant Mease grow into what it is today,'' she said.

"I think his main focus was always making sure this community had the facilities and technology that we deserved,'' she said.

Heye's memorial service was held at the Church of Ascension, six blocks north of Morton Plant Hospital, on Thursday . After the service, his sister-in-law, Penny Young, made it clear that not all of Heye's generosity was seen by the public.

"When my son was 6, he had leukemia. Harold made it possible for us to travel to St. Jude's in Memphis to receive treatment,'' she said. "My son was in the final stages, and what he did for us, that would be my most important memory of Harold."