Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
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Local highway activist Heim, 90, dies

KEY LARGO -- A local man credited with successfully lobbying state road officials to install larger speed limit signs and paint the 18-Mile Stretch and Jewfish Creek Bridge tropical blue died March 12.

Harold "Hal" Heim Jr. had been dealing with health issues for years. Born on Columbus Day in 1923, he was 90.

Heim died at his home at about 4 p.m. with a caretaker from Hospice. He is survived by his two daughters, Sue Heim and Sibyl Canaan, as well as three grandchildren.

"My father was a positive person," Canaan said. "He believed people had the ability to affect their own change."

Many residents know Heim best for his successful efforts in getting Florida Department of Transportation officials, during the reconstruction of the 18-Mile Stretch, to add a tropical hue to the concrete divider along the potion of U.S. 1 connecting Key Largo to the mainland.

When he brought that idea to County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy, she passed it up to FDOT with little hope it would do anything. Heim consulted with marine mural artist Wyland and proposed that FDOT use "Belize blue." To the surprise of many, FDOT agreed and painted the bridge and concrete divider.

Heim had successfully urged highway officials earlier to place larger speed limit signs along the stretch.

"He was just a great guy," Murphy said. "He saw things and he fixed them."

Murphy said she could tell Heim was ailing when his visits to her office became less frequent. He then began calling and finally writing letters. Murphy said Heim used those meetings and letters as a chance to issue his "marching orders."

Heim followed local issues closely and his letters were also a fixture on the opinion pages of local newspapers.

"Hal was a tireless champion of the Florida Keys who delivered significant results through personal connections," said Tavernier activist John Hammerstrom. "His well-researched, hand-written letters to high officials were particularly effective."

FDOT officials, who occasionally were at odds with Heim, also showed him great respect.

"I always looked forward to talking with him," said Gus Pego, a regional FDOT director. "He cared dearly for the safety of Monroe County residents."

Canaan described her father's and Pego's initial relationship as "mortal enemies," but the two eventually grew to respect each other.

When the rebuilt Jewfish Creek Bridge opened in 2008, Pego presented Heim with a plaque for his efforts during the project. Heim, in turn, presented Pego with a can of paint, a brush and a plaque with a mounted paint can top as a reminder.

Before moving to the Florida Keys in the early 1980s, Heim, a Colgate University graduate, was an executive with Campbell Soup Company in New Jersey. He also served in the U.S. Army and was among the first wave of soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy in the D-Day invasion during World War II. Canaan said her father also helped liberate concentration camps during the war.

"Toward the end, he began talking more about the war," Canaan said. "The good parts and the bad parts."

Funeral arrangements had not been set as of press time, but Heim will be buried next to his wife on Long Island.

jgore@keysnews.com

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