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Victor Heyman; Defense Department official known as angel to folk musicians

By Kay Coyte
Washington Post / February 25, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Victor Heyman, a Defense Department official during the counterculture 1960s, emerged in later years as a widely recognized "folk angel."

His generosity ranged from financial backing of folk music venues and festivals to no-strings loans to down-on-their luck musicians, to thousands of acts of random kindness. Dr. Heyman, a Rockville, Md., resident who died Jan. 6 at 73, was the financial guardian of numerous folk performers nationwide.

When Vermont songbird Rachel Bissex was dying of cancer in 2005, Dr. Heyman in short order spearheaded a two-disc tribute CD of her songs performed by some of the best of her contemporaries, from Patty Larkin to The Kennedys. More than $50,000 was raised for a college fund for Bissex's children.

When singer Tom Prasada-Rao, then of Takoma Park, Md., was trying to make an impression in the New Folk competition at the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas, Dr. Heyman and his wife, Reba, made T-shirts bearing Prasada-Rao's likeness, sat in front-row seats, and created a buzz that helped him win that 1993 competition.

When Dr. Heyman won a $500 grand-prize drawing from CD production company Oasis Disc Manufacturing, he handed it over to Texas-based singer-songwriter Jenny Reynolds, who applied the windfall to her next recording, "Next to You."

When folk concert and festival producer Maureen Harrigan adopted four special-needs children, then fell on hard times, the kindness came in a series of checks quietly slipped to her: help with utility bills, tuition for an after-school karate program, a rare dinner out.

"Vic was our guardian angel," said Harrigan, of Martinsville, W.Va. "He was always there to sustain you, to do whatever he could to keep you alive."

"That kind of giving is in itself inspiring," said Reynolds, whose gift from Dr. Heyman had come out of the blue. "It wasn't a status symbol for him to be generous. No one was ever asked to name a wing of a building after him. . . . What was important to Vic and Reba was helping people, not helping themselves."

In recent years, Dr. Heyman was slowed by the effects of Parkinson's disease. But he continued to attend shows (always sitting in the front), keep up correspondence, and support the singer-songwriters he considered his adopted children.

In addition to Reba, his wife of 52 years, he leaves their four children.

A native Washingtonian, he received a doctorate in political science from Washington University in St. Louis.

Dr. Heyman served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Southeast Asia programs in the 1960s.

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