The Walthew Law Firm would like to congratulate our own Robert Heller, attorney and former Wesleyan University (Conn.) football captain, on his nomination for the National Collegiate Football Hall of Fame. Bob was Wesleyan’s starting center ahead of his teammate, lifelong friend, and current New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Having twice been honored as a first team small college All-American (1972-73), Bob was inducted into the Wesleyan Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.
Bob’s leadership at our law office mirrors his play on the football field. He did not allow a sack during his college career and his blocking was key to a 1972 Wesleyan offense that set the still-standing school record for 1,980 rushing yards in a season.
Walthew’s Marilyn McAdoo wrote the following profile for the August 2014 Trial News:
When I told my friend Bob Heller that we had been asked to profile his life, he asked, “Why me?”
Because of the indelible mark he has left on the many people who know him.
Bob is part of a close-knit family, the oldest of four siblings. He’s a people person and has been all of his life. In high school, his senior classmates voted him Most Friendly in his class. Anyone who knows Bob today wouldn’t be surprised by that honor. His parents taught their children the importance of family, hard work, and treating people with respect. Bob has lived his life following those rules.
Bob is Irish through and through and kissed the Blarney Stone years ago. He traveled to Ireland for the first time at age 10 and spent the summer with relatives there. His mother and aunt were Irish dancers as young girls and his grandfather was an Irish fiddler. After one trip to Ireland, he had his mom ship their old, unused fiddle to him. He took lessons and learned to play tunes by ear. These days, you may find him at Sake Nomi in Pioneer Square playing with a few of his internationally known Irish musician friends.
Bob describes his college years at Wesleyan as his hippy days, long hair, relaxed, friendly, but somewhat unfocused other than playing football. Bob says he “spent four years trying to avoid a quality education, but did not succeed.” He graduated in 1974, uncertain of his ultimate career goal.
After college, Bob worked construction in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. He learned how to build houses from foundation to roof and hung sheet rock (drywall) because he was the big guy with the strength to handle the wallboard. He later worked as a short order cook, a doorman at a bar, and drove cement and dump trucks. He explains that manual labor, while honorable, was not the reason he went to Wesleyan, but these experiences were very important in how he relates to his clients as a workers compensation lawyer.
Bob’s first interaction with workers comp lawyers was as a witness in a friend’s industrial injury claim. He was impressed with the friend’s attorney, who was relaxed, approachable, but eminently qualified. He was a real person. This planted the idea of law school in Bob’s brain, it germinated and he graduated from the New England School of Law in 1979.
Bob initially concentrated his practice on personal injury and workers compensation law, first in Pennsylvania and then in Washington state. He found that his blue collar work experience was invaluable in connecting with his clients. He didn’t need a three-piece suit. He could be himself and talk about what his clients were doing. He could understand their challenges and injuries and what the claims meant to them. He fought for his clients and they responded with referrals, the highest possible compliment.
The mark of a good lawyer is to advocate successfully for clients. The mark of an excellent lawyer is doing that while maintaining professionalism. Esteemed colleagues and legal opponents understand that Bob never introduces personality or vitriol into a case during hearings. He is described as a consummate professional and a gentleman, who “earns respect from everyone.” He knows the case and the law, he is a great competitor, and he reciprocates professional courtesy. Bob is also someone to share a beer with at the end of proceedings and talk about the Seattle Mariners.
Bob says, “Working and winning for injured people keeps me going every day. It has gotten harder to do the day-to-day work with the Department of Labor & Industries. That’s the reality, but gratifying when you succeed. The humanity gets squeezed out of the claims process. The more the Department of Labor & Industries looks at cases as numbers, the more important it is to pay attention to what you should do and help the judge see that. In workers’ comp, if you forget about the people, you miss everything.”
In the 1980’s, Bob took community classes plus three semesters at Seattle Central Community College to learn sign language—no small feat, but a sign of his commitment to people in need. He is a Founding Board Member of the Deaf Blind Service Center and has been on the boards of other community health organizations. He also takes the time to speak with people who have been newly diagnosed with cancer. He’ll talk for as long as they need, willing to listen and share what he knows personally. In addition to presenting at workers’ comp CLEs, Bob takes the opportunity to speak about legal issues in health care in cancer support groups.
Bob’s big heart and love of people have guided him through his life and career. His passion for family, music, the law, and the many, many people in his life are his trademark.
One of our colleagues put it best when he said, “Bob Heller, one of the most remarkable people I’ve known and am proud to call friend.”
Marilyn McAdoo is a Worker’s Compensation Paralegal and Administrator for The Walthew Law Firm.