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Editorial: Greenwood loses local statesman, not politician

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Richard Eugene “Dick” Heiney might be best described as a professional citizen.

He devoted years of service to Greenwood, both officially and unofficially. He died last week at age 78.

Heiney served on the city’s board of zoning appeals, the planning commission and the board of works and was elected to the city council. He helped lead the effort to create a police commission to improve professionalism in the department.

A Democrat in what was becoming a Republican stronghold, he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, not as a contrarian but as someone who truly believed he was working toward what was best for the city.

Former Johnson County Democratic Party chairman Jim Stables said, “If I ever met anyone in my life that I thought should have been mayor of Greenwood, he was the one.”

He recalled Heiney talking for an hour and a half over coffee about the details of putting a new sewer system into the Valle Vista area, which showed his attention to even the most mundane aspects of government, Stables said.

Former Democratic Mayor Margaret McGovern worked with Heiney when he served on the city’s board of works during her time in office.

“His main interest was in good government. He was a watchdog, he did his homework and he was motivated only by his love of this community,” McGovern said. “I don’t think it would be correct to call him a politician. He was really a statesman.”

Heiney once said he was criticized often during his one term on the city council because he questioned everything and explained ordinances during meetings.

“I think it was important for me to understand what was going on. By going out of their way to discuss publicly and explain,” city officials can try to redeem themselves to the public, Heiney said.

“Over time, people will perhaps gain confidence again that everything is out in the open,” he said.

That commitment to openness and democracy was another of Heiney’s strong traits. He admired Thomas Jefferson and had a collection of Jefferson quotes. He also regularly registered voters and passed out fliers for candidates.

Ron Deer, the Republican who defeated Heiney in the 2003 city council election, said of Heiney: “He certainly put his heart into this community.” Deer said.

Heiney’s philosophy about government can be summarized in a line from a letter he wrote in 2007: “We should be able to have honest-though-differing opinions with nobody losing integrity.”

But government wasn’t his only passion. He was an avid gardener and was instrumental in establishing the Greenwood Farmers Market. In his later years, he was a fixture at the market, selling a variety of fresh produce, but especially garlic. In fact, market visitors often referred to him as “The Garlic Man,” a title Heiney wore with pride.

Dick Heiney was proud to be a Greenwood resident and worked tirelessly for decades to make the community a better place to live now and in the future.

His contributions can’t be cataloged easily, and no building will carry his name. But his impact will be felt nonetheless.

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