Healy gala pays tribute to ‘consummate volunteer’

Mike Healy with his grandson, Cullen.
When The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen opens its doors April 27 for an evening of music, dancing, and fundraising, many of the revelers will have one thing in common -- aside from the fact that they are members of the Glen Allen Ruritan Club.

Almost all of them knew and loved Mike Healy.

The long-time community volunteer, who died suddenly last June, chaired Glen Allen Day for the last three years and was instrumental in building it into one of Henrico’s largest yearly events – an event that has raised thousands of dollars in scholarships for Hermitage High School graduates of the last decade.

So for Healy’s fellow Ruritans, it was only fitting that they endow the latest scholarship – the first to be awarded at the new Glen Allen High School – with his name.

And at the upcoming gala that also bears his name, Mike Healy is sure to play a starring role in the memories and stories shared, just as he played a central role in the life of his community.

Among the favorite stories that Bob Nicholas will be telling are several that illustrate Healy’s talent for making people smile. He was a master at this, said Nicholas, who has known Healy since their children got involved in soccer 30 years ago. Whether dressing up as a sumo wrestler on a soccer trip to Canada (using only a towel and his talent for mimicking accents and voices), or using humor to appeal to volunteers and disarm potential antagonists at meetings, Healy had an almost mystical ability to charm.

When Nicholas served with his friend on soccer league boards, he says, the two of them could make identical statements to people and get vastly different responses.

“I would make them outraged,” Nicholas recalls, “but Mike would say the same thing with this twinkle in his eye, or add a slight twist or some humor, and he would bring them in.”

That talent for recruiting volunteers and raising money was invaluable, says Nicholas, as the friends worked together on such projects as developing the soccer fields at what is now Capital Park, and converting the Longdale recreation area from softball to soccer use.

“We sold everything – candy bars, light bulbs, chicken barbecue,” Healy recalls of the parent fundraisers that helped pay off the debt on the fields. “Mike would cut the fields with his tractor . . . and then be manning the grill all day [at the concession stand].

“It was Mike’s personality that helped us bring in all the volunteers.”

Fellow Ruritan Club member Colin Steele III recalls seeing Healy use that same winning personality to work miracles with the Glen Allen Ruritans, which Steele joined just as Healy was campaigning to expand the scope of a then-much-smaller Glen Allen Day event.

“I was watching Mike push forward new ideas and unimaginable goals for Glen Allen Day with some skeptcism from older members,” says Steele. “After all, we had cooked barbeque for years, and were known for it. [The attitude among club members was], ‘Why fix something that isn’t broken?’

“But Mike just pushed onward and continued hustling,” recalls Steele, “slowly warming people to change.

“[At] his last Glen Allen Day, we had about 20,000 people. His impact will be felt for years.”

What really matters
Kathy Healy, Mike’s wife of 38 years, can also attest to his skill at emphasizing the positive and bringing out the best in people.

“He had quite the gift of gab and loved a good joke, especially the corny ones,” Kathy recalls of her husband. “He thrived on making people smile.

“He once told me he especially liked my smile and he said that he tried very hard to make me smile every day,” she adds. “Once he mentioned it, I realized he did keep me smiling. Mike was thoughtful that way.”

His love of people and the importance he placed on family were paramount in his life, says his wife. Although he traveled extensively for his job, Healy made important family events a priority.

Healy’s niece Liz Redlin recalls that when her father passed away eight years ago, “Uncle Mike” was among the first to rally to her side and to help her and her brother.

“He really made himself available to us for anything we may need,” says Redlin, “and always let us know how much he cared about us.”

Healy also gave Redlin advice on buying her first house, and spent the day of her wedding taking care of “silly details like alphabetizing all the place cards,” she says. “He was a family man and taught us all about what really matters in life.”

Another niece, Kristen DeBruyne, recalls Healy’s love of music, his mini-concerts that would “rock the house -- literally,” and the games of Beatles Trivia Pursuit that he would play with her children.

“Uncle Mike always took a minute to sit and talk with each of my kids and see how they were doing. He always made each time spent with the kids special,” says DeBruyne. “When I think of my Uncle Mike I remember his bright smile and his happy personality. He was fun-loving and could never get enough of it.”

Andrea Simpson, a third niece, cherishes the memory of a special Easter egg hunt in which she and her Uncle Mike found the treasured golden egg. “We high-fived each other . . . and I felt so proud as Uncle Mike shouted ‘That’s my niece -- she found the golden egg!”

But in addition to the golden egg, says Simpson, she treasures the memory of her uncle’s smile that day, and of how long it took him to escort her on and off the egg-hunting grounds -- because Healy stopped to chat with everyone he saw.

“I remember pulling on him and saying we were going to miss [the hunt],” she recalls. “Looking back on that memory, I saw so many things in Uncle Mike. I saw community, the act of a simple smile . . . and acceptance to whomever he came into contact with. But most importantly, I felt his compassion and love for others.”

‘Just to hear that laugh’
Andy Stone, who was a friend and Bretton Woods neighbor of Healy’s for more than 20 years, says the thing that stands out in his memories of Healy is “his ever-present positive attitude.

“He always seemed to be upbeat,” recalls Stone. “You always came away with a conversation with him feeling better.”

Healy’s lifelong friend Gary Zell, who grew up with him in Alexandria, quotes his wife as saying that “Mike brightened every room -- or rum as Mike pronounced it -- he entered.

“Beverly enjoyed being around Mike so much because he always made her laugh,” says Zell. “Everyone’s mood and feel for life always rose when Mike was present.”

Mike’s positive outlook also helped Zell through some particularly tough times in his life, he says, including a nasty divorce and the bankruptcy of his employer.

Regarding the bankruptcy, Zell says, “A region that took me 10 years to build was destroyed overnight, ending the income, stability and peace of mind that my wife and I worked so hard to achieve. But Mike was there with empathy, encouragement, positive leadership and his incredible sense of humor that somehow helped Bev and I get through
the early days of a devastating financial disaster.”

But although the two were friends for 50 years, Zell says Healy was reserved when it came to his role in charitable activities -- which included efforts as a charter member of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in addition to his work on behalf of soccer and the Ruritans.

“What is so unbelievable about this,” says Zell, “is that as long as I knew and as close as I was to Mike, I was totally unaware of all of the charitable causes that he dedicated his great efforts and time to.”

“Mike was the consummate volunteer,” says Kathy Healy in agreement. “He never talked about all that he did. Many never knew how much he did behind the scenes.”

Kristen DeBruyne adds that Healy was just as reserved when it came to his acts of thoughtfulness. After receiving a bouquet of roses and encouraging note from her aunt and uncle while she was undergoing chemotherapy, DeBruyne recalls, she responded by calling her Aunt Kathy to thank her.

“Ha,” recalls DeBruyne with an ironic laugh. “[Kathy] didn’t know anything about it; Uncle Mike had gone ahead and sent it and didn’t tell her.”

Timothy Healy, who says he lost his best friend as well as his brother and business partner when Mike died, recalls chatting by phone with him several times a day from his office in New Jersey. But the conversations always ended abruptly, recalls Timothy, if Mike’s daughter-in-law brought the grandchildren by for a visit. Mike would drop everything to spend time with them.

Of the countless things Timothy misses about his brother, two that stand out include his “complete zest for life” and his “wonderful” laugh.

“Whenever I found something amusing, I just couldn’t wait to call him to share whatever it was,” says Timothy. “Just to hear that laugh.”

Although the loss of his brother left a void in his life that can never be filled, says Timothy Healy, “I honestly couldn’t have been luckier to have such a wonderful person in my life.”

It’s a sentiment expressed almost universally, it seems, by the friends and family of Mike Healy.

“We all miss Uncle Mike,” sums up Kristen DeBruyne. “[But] we have wonderful, sweet and happy memories of him that we hold in our thoughts and in our hearts.

“He’s never far away.”

The Healy Gala will be held April 27 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen and will feature music, dancing, wine, a silent auction, and light hors d’oeuvres. Tickets are $30 per person and can be purchased at Glen Allen Supermarket, JJ’s Grille, and Holiday Barn; proceeds will benefit the Mike Healy Scholarship, which will be awarded yearly to a deserving Glen Allen High School student. For details, visit http://www.healygala.org or http://www.glenallenruritan.org or call 257-9605.
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