Remembering Chancellor E. Bruce Heilman: A Letter from Chaplain Kocher

December 11, 2019
Our University Chaplain remembers the life and legacy of Chancellor Heilman

Dr. E. Bruce Heilman died on October 19, 2019 at the age of 93.  More details about his extraordinary life, including the notice President Crutcher shared with the UR community, may be found here. This October we celebrated his life in Cannon Memorial Chapel, and his ashes are now interred alongside his wife, Betty, in our Columbarium.  

I’m writing to offer a brief, personal reflection on the profound impact he had on the Office of the Chaplaincy. 

Dr. Heilman had bold dreams for the University of Richmond during his presidency from 1971-1986 and again from 1987-1988.  The Office of the Chaplaincy was one of those dreams.  He created the position of Chaplain to the University in 1974, and the position developed into an office soon thereafter. 

President Heilman held a deep conviction that the life of the spirit and the life of the mind are intertwined at the heart of a great university.  He did not draw clear lines between the sacred and the secular, between the classroom and the chapel, but rather envisioned the grand enterprise of higher education as forming body, mind, and soul, and saw a vibrant university chaplaincy as central to that noble work.    

In 1986, he raised 1.5 million dollars to endow the Chaplaincy, with half given by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and half given by UR alumni and friends.  It remains one of the few endowed chaplaincies in all of higher education. 

Dr. Heilman told me on numerous occasions how important the Chaplaincy was to him, and of the pride he took in its rich history and bright future, and the positive contributions it makes within the UR community.  And I never tired of expressing my gratitude to him, for his generosity of heart and spirit, and his boldness of vision, and for the opportunity to serve a community I love. 

Every aspect of the Chaplaincy’s current programming is a reflection of the aspirations he had and the decisions he made decades ago. 

Personally, he was a mentor and a hero.  I regularly sought his counsel over the past ten years, and he proved unfailing in his wisdom, confidence, and encouragement to me, and for the work of this office more broadly. 

In 2016, several UR faculty colleagues and I authored a book on spiritual leadership.  Dr. Heilman was gracious to write the Afterword in which he shared the following reflection:

I used my authority as President to establish the position of Chaplain to the University. I did that out of my own background of learning, of living, of understanding, and out of my sense of responsibility for the fact that there is a spiritual depth to everyone irrespective of what they believe or don’t believe. 

And my life, and that of so many others, is better because you did. 

Thank you, dear friend.

Craig T. Kocher

University Chaplain 
Jessie Ball duPont Chair of the Chaplaincy 
University of Richmond