Kevin Patrick Heller of Menlo Park, Calif., died on January 5, 2021 of Lou Gehrig’s disease, a few months before his 50th birthday.
Born on April 4, 1961, in White Plains, New York, he was the second of Theresa and David Heller’s five children. Growing up in Rye, New York meant learning to swim at the Rye YMCA, where he was quickly outstanding, spending summers in the Rye Golf Club pool, delivering newspapers with his brothers, working at Butler Brothers, and lifeguarding at Orienta Beach Club.
He attended Resurrection Grammar School and graduated from Archbishop Stepinac High School where, besides being inducted into the National Honor Society, he excelled in swimming, football, and baseball. He was the first choice as a date to many a debutante ball.
Due to his academic and swimming prowess, Kevin received Richard Ottinger’s Congressional appointment and joined the class of 1983 at West Point. Kevin was an outstanding swimmer all four years and rose to the rank of Cadet Captain and was a battalion executive officer.
To all who knew him, Kevin Heller was bold, gregarious, and outgoing. His classmates wrote in his memorial article, “It did not hurt our chances when your wingman looked like a GQ cover.”
According to friends and family, Kevin was a guy who loved out loud with the speakers turned up to 10. He was a larger-than-life kind of person who treated everyone in the same positive and accepting way. What you saw is what you got with Kevin, and it was all good. Kevin had a big heart and even as a kid he was the one who would bring home an injured bird or squirrel, nurse it to health, or cry himself to sleep when the animal died.
Nearly every classmate at West Point, childhood friends from the Rye Golf Club Swim team, and the members of his community in California echoed the same sentiment: “I am a better person for having known Kevin.”
It was no secret where Kevin got his motivation and his drive — his parents. Everyone remembers Mr. and Mrs. Heller for having an open door, plenty of food, and football tailgates. There was never a dull weekend at their warm and loving house.
Kevin branched Armor when he graduated from West Point, and, after a short stint as a swim coach at West Point Prep School, in 1984 he was assigned to the 5/32 Armor Brigade at Fort Stewart, Georgia, followed by Headquarters Victory Brigade at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah. Four years later, he left the Army to begin a career in sales. A born salesman, he worked at Nalco Chemical, Baxter Healthcare, Vignette, Greenplum, Oracle, and Looker. It was his sales career and the woman he would marry that brought him to California.
On September 12, 1998, he married the love of his life, Lesley Ann Smith of Cincinnati, Ohio, and as anyone who knew them would expect, the Hellers quickly became active members of their church and the Menlo Park community.
Kevin did not spend much time sleeping, but he spent countless hours coaching a master’s swim team, training for triathlons, and coaching his children in their chosen sports. Lauren plays volleyball at California Lutheran University, where she is a junior majoring in Communications. Like his father, Michael is a gifted athlete who will be playing water polo at the United States Naval Academy.
In February 2019 Kevin had a difficult time keeping water out of his nose when swimming. As a lifelong swimmer, he recognized that something was wrong. Five months later, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. As with every challenge, Kevin faced ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) head-on. He started Team #GiveEmHeller and raised the most funds in the 15-year history of the Napa Valley Ride to Defeat ALS. Kevin was a part of the fabric of the community in Menlo Park, just as his parents had been in Rye, and that community rallied around him and his wife and children.
Around the same time that Kevin received the diagnosis, he learned that Google had purchased Looker, the company he helped start. Kevin worked at the company until the day he died, and he was still its number one salesman in 2020, despite being unable to walk, talk, or move for four months of that year.
Kevin was an avid cyclist, and his army of supporters in California found a three-wheel bike and then a two-person tandem bike so that he could go on bike rides for as long as possible. Kevin went on his last ride with his brothers over Thanksgiving weekend in 2020.
From the moment he was diagnosed, Kevin focused on fundraising to find a cure and became an advocate for spreading awareness about the disease. He was shocked to discover that veterans have a 50 percent greater chance of being diagnosed with ALS. He told his master’s swim group that it is a disease for which there is still no cure that attacks Athletes, Leaders, and Service members.
Kevin Heller received the ALS Association’s highest honor, the National Hero Award, in January 2021. His wife Lesley accepted the award, and the tribute video can be viewed at ALS Hero Award.
Kevin made the most of his 18 months following his diagnosis. He went on trips with his family and traveled to football games and family weddings. He organized ice bucket challenges, worked full time, and went on a remarkable number of bike rides.
His family said, “Kevin never let things get him down. He showed us his love and strength every day, and in the end, Kevin Heller did beat ALS.”
Before dying peacefully in his sleep, with his family by his side, Kevin typed his final words, “Go Army! Beat Navy! Go Navy! Beat Everyone Else!”
In addition to his wife, Lesley, and children, Lauren and Michael of Menlo Park, Calif., Kevin Heller is survived by his mother, Terry Heller of Rye, N.Y.; his brothers, David (Sandra) Heller of Naugatuck, Conn., and John (Tracy) Heller of College Grove, Tenn.; his sisters, Carol Ann Redfield (Ron Meredith) of Holly Springs, N.C., and Kate (Art) Tiedemann of Rye; and too many nieces and nephews to name.
A Memorial Mass was celebrated June 5 at Church of the Resurrection in Rye.