Kay Coyte (reprinted with
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 22, 2009; Page C09
Heyman, a Defense Department official
during the counterculture 1960s, emerged
in later years as a widely recognized
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 resident who
died Jan. 6 at 73, was the financial
guardian of countless folk performers
Victor Heyman, with wife, Reba, was a
civil servant in the 1960's,
and a financial guardian to struggling
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, 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
"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. (Dr. Heyman is
survived by his wife of 52 years as well
as their four children.)
Since his death, the tributes have
flowed for the sometimes gruff but
always lovable man who was a folk-scene
fixture. The Heymans traveled the world,
always finding the local folk music
club, much as birdwatchers check off a
list of bird sightings. "I looked at
their calendar one time," Harrigan said,
"and they had gone to 276 folk shows,
and it wasn't even the end of the year
Victor Kenneth Heyman, a native
Washingtonian, received a doctorate in
political science from Washington
University in St. Louis and served as
deputy assistant secretary of defense
for Southeast Asia programs in the
Starting in the late 1970s, he and his
wife operated Heyman Mailing Service in
Rockville, a direct-mail company with
clients from arts organizations to
politicians. At the business, which they
sold in 2001, they offered low rates to
mail tour schedules for folk musicians.
While Dr. Heyman traced his interest in
folk music to the genre's revival after
World War II, he became more interested
in singer-songwriters who often were
hard to categorize:
Heyman, who reviewed CDs for Sing Out!
magazine, would sing the praises of a
new artist, always with great
"It wasn't like he was promoting a label
or trying to sell CDs," said David
Eisner of the Institute of Musical
Traditions, a folk arts preservation
organization. "He just loved the music."
Dr. Heyman's preference for
under-the-radar assistance to folk
musicians presented a quandary for
concert presenters who recently staged a
tribute for him. "A moment of silence
just doesn't seem appropriate," said
local folk music promoter Scott Moore,
whose Focus Music was a co-sponsor of
the Feb. 2 event. "Vic would have
preferred a moment of music."
The tribute, attended by about 100
friends and folk fans, raised funds to
create Heyman Grants to help aspiring
musicians travel to Kerrville. The
18-day Texas festival is known
internationally as a mecca for
singer-songwriters and a launching pad
for performers, including Lyle Lovett
and Lucinda Williams.
At the Feb. 2 show, Eisner recalled
walking into Heyman Mailing Service. "It
looked more like a recording studio than
a mailing office," Eisner said. "There
were photos of musicians everywhere,
many of them standing with Vic."
Musicians also received Dr. Heyman's
professional advice, sometimes stern but
always honest, said Cary Cooper of
Dallas, one of many singers whose second
CDs were financed in part by Dr. Heyman.
Then there was his sense of humor.
Ellen Bukstel, a Florida singer and
graphic artist, was caught nodding off
while awaiting a turn onstage. Dr.
Heyman printed the snapshot on a coffee
mug and mailed it to his friend.
"It's typical of Vic because it just
arrived out of nowhere on my doorstep,
and it made me laugh -- and he knew it
would make me laugh," said Bukstel, who
is holding a Heyman tribute show at her
house late next month.
Musicians also have weighed in with a
"Travel Well," by the husband-wife duo
of Prasada-Rao and Cooper as well as Amy
Speace and Jagoda, includes a pledge to
Reba Heyman ("we will hold her in the
circle") and a fond farewell:
Fare thee well gentle child
You have carried us this far.
Now we'll let you lead the choir
From your seat among the stars.
(Editors note: Kay Coyte wishes to thank
Chris Slattery of the Maryland Gazette
for forwarding his article on the Focus
tribute to Victor Heyman to the Post