University of Richmond Chancellor E. Bruce Heilman will set out on a cross-country motorcycle trip to commemorate his 87th birthday this Saturday, meeting with fellow World War II veterans and Richmond alumni along the way.
This year Heilman will travel through 17 states. According to a recent press release, his annual motorcycle trips began when he was 84 years old and embarked on a cross-country trip from Richmond, to San Diego, Calif., and back.
“There’s nothing like getting up and getting straddled on a Harley and hitting the highway,” Heilman said.
A proud WWII veteran, Heilman bought his first motorcycle at age 20 after he finished his tour in the Marine Corp. He said that when he married his wife Betty as a freshman in college, “that took care of the motorcycle.”
Six children and 11 grandchildren later, Heilman’s wife gave him a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for his 71st birthday. He said that growing up on a dairy farm during the Great Depression, serving as a Marine, going to college and raising a family, he had been intensely, and happily, occupied all of his life.
“It’s important to have that point in your life,” he said. “Though it may be in the later years, where you’re free and flexible to be just a little bit of who you are, rather than representing what you are.”
Heilman said that although his trips would not be as fun if he had to be at a certain place at a certain time, he makes sure to meet with many people along his journey.
“I’ll be meeting with several alumni along the way,” he said. “I’ll call and say, ‘I’m almost there,’ and then we will get lunch or dinner.”
Heilman is also the national spokesman for the Greatest Generation Foundation, a non-profit organization that recognizes American war veterans. He will speak to veterans at the organization’s headquarters in Denver during his trip.
Junior Patrick Heilman, Chancellor Heilman’s youngest grandson, was a freshman at the University of Richmond when his grandfather made his first cross-country trip.
“I was a little scared at first,” Patrick said, “because he was traveling by himself, cross-country on a motorcycle.”
Patrick said that despite his concerns, he and his family knew that they could not talk his grandfather out of the trip.
Heilman said that with his years, came wisdom. “When you’re my age, you have enough judgment not to kill yourself on a motorcycle,” he said. “You’re a lot safer than you would be if you were much younger.”
Patrick said that although his grandfather had never tried to get him on a motorcycle, it would be fun to try later in life.
Heilman said that riding his motorcycle was his way of staying young, enjoying life and fulfilling his ambitions. “Young people have this disposition that life can’t possibly be exciting if you’re in your 80s,” Heilman said. “But the fact is, it really can.”
His annual trips and his outlook on life at 86 years old confirm one of Heilman’s favorite sayings: “We don’t quit doing things because we get old; we get old because we quit doing things.”
Heilman said that although it was a bit unusual for someone his age to ride a motorcycle, he was just as able as he had been when he was a 20-year-old Marine.
“Life has not ended,” Heilman said. “I’m not sitting here, waiting for the Grim Reaper. He’s going to have to catch me.”
Contact reporter Molly McGrath at firstname.lastname@example.org