USF mourns the death of beloved campus leader Bill Heller

Bill Heller smiling(Sept. 14, 2020) – The USF St. Petersburg campus community bid a fond farewell to one of its most transformational leaders, Bill Heller, who died at age 85.

“Bill Heller was the heart and soul of USF St. Petersburg for many years,” said Martin Tadlock, regional chancellor at USF’s St. Petersburg campus. “He was an unflinching advocate for the campus and the city and leaves a tremendous legacy that will be felt for generations. Bill had a remarkable talent for connecting with people, and his wisdom and kindness made a lasting impact on all of us who were fortunate enough to know him.”

Heller is credited with launching the rise of USF’s St. Petersburg campus from a small, commuter school that served only upperclassmen and graduate students to the thriving place it is today, with more than 4,000 students.

Heller came to St. Petersburg from the University of North Carolina Charlotte in 1992 to serve as dean and campus CEO at USF’s St. Petersburg campus. A dedicated leader, he was also a genial presence who built strong connections with faculty, staff and students.

“You’d see him in a meeting in the morning at the university and there would be a charity event that night and he’d be parking cars,” Ray Arsenault, the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at USF, told the Tampa Bay Times. “No task was too small for him. Everything large and small — he was always there.”

After stepping down from his leadership role in 2002, Heller became a professor, dean of the College of Education and director of the Bishop Center for Ethical Leadership. He announced his retirement in late 2018.

In 2019, the university recognized his many years of devoted service by naming its education building in his honor.

“Through his years of dedicated public service, Bill made many significant contributions and he leaves a lasting impact on the university, the city of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay region,” said USF President Steven Currall. “We are proud that future generations will continue to be reminded of his legacy as they enter H. William Heller Hall, a building where he taught that was renamed in his honor last year. He will be greatly missed.”

In addition to his roles at the university, Heller was a noted community leader. He served as a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 2006-2010, representing House District 52.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who served in the Legislature with Heller, directed that flags on city property be flown at half-staff in his honor.

“Today is a sad day for St. Petersburg and the countless lives touched by the Honorable Dr. Bill Heller,” Kriseman said in a statement. “In his capacity as an educator, elected official, leader on numerous boards and committees, philanthropist, and friend to all, he made our community — every single person he met — better, kinder, and smarter … While we will sorely miss Bill, we will take comfort in knowing a better life was never lived.”

Heller was president of the board of Bayfront Medical Center and SPCA Tampa Bay, the chair of the Pinellas Cultural Foundation, an honorary life member of Great Explorations Children’s Museum and a board member emeritus of the Mahaffey Theater Foundation.

Heller, who served as an Army paratrooper, will be buried at Bay Pines National Cemetery. He is survived by his wife, Jeanne, who was also an active presence on campus; three children; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. There will not be a public memorial service due to the coronavirus pandemic; however, the family hopes to hold a celebration of life at a future date. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to Great Explorations or SPCA of Tampa Bay.