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Colleagues remember ‘brilliant professor’

Bill Heim’s closest friends and colleagues gathered on campus Wednesday to remember the longtime English professor, administrator and friend.

Approximately 150 people packed into the Alumni Center’s Traditions Hall to celebrate a man they said was caring, giving and full of humor.

So many people attended that as many as 30 extra chairs had to be brought in. Even with the extra seating, some were forced to stand.

“As I look around at all of you, I think Bill would say he doesn’t believe it,” said Heim’s longtime friend and colleague Flora Zbar. “His ego was so small, he didn’t have a sense of himself.”

Heim died on Jan. 26 after a brief, sudden illness.

The memorial’s first speaker, Rabbi Frank Sundheim, called the service a “celebration.”

“There have been tears, and there will continue to be tears,” he said. “But now is the time to speak.”

Six of Heim’s closest colleagues then did just that.

They told stories – some funny, some sad, some spiritual – but mostly funny.

Bill Morris said he and Heim would meet and talk every day. A conversation Morris said stuck out was when the two discussed that Billy Graham never described what heaven was like, just that it’s whatever you want it to be.

“And Bill looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, but I bet they won’t let you smoke a cigar,'” Morris said. “And I said back to him, ‘Well, let’s not go then.'”

Zbar, who created and taught the popular Literature and the Occult class, spoke about all the “gross” gifts she and Heim exchanged.

“The last gift he gave me was very charming,” she said. “But if a student ever saw or asked about it, I’d probably be expelled from school.”

Another longtime colleague, Tom Ross, focused his speech more on Heim’s career at USF.

“He was the coolest administrator I’ve ever seen,” Ross said of Heim, who held many administrative positions in the English department during his 37 years there.

Ross then described how Heim had “to bring everything together” when the department was going through some tough times in the 1970s.

“He made things look so easy,” Ross said. “He hardly ever sweat, but if he had a couple drops of sweat on his forehead, I would be in a puddle.”

All six speakers praised Heim’s teaching ability.

“He did something to these students,” said Stephanie Moss, who filled in for Heim’s Literature and the Occult class earlier this semester. “They don’t like me. I’m really trying to win them back.”

Valerie Troyano, an assistant undergraduate student professor with an office near Heim’s, called Heim a “comedian” and a “brilliant professor.”

Heim’s religious and spiritual beliefs seemed to conflict with what he may have truly believed and what he taught. A converted Jew, Heim was also fascinated by the occult and the supernatural. Sundheim said Heim’s love of mysticism was nothing more than an “intellectual treat.”

“He was the opposite of what he taught,” Sundheim said. “He taught like an advocate of it before he would tear it down.”

But Zbar, who has known Heim since he arrived at USF in 1970, put it differently.

“(Heim) was always searching for a God he presumably didn’t believe in,” she said. “He chased the deity down the long roads, and now, I do believe they have caught up with each other.”