To his children and to his pastor, Robert Heatley had a life worth bragging about.
He served in the U.S. Air Force. He spent more than three decades as a police officer protecting District employees and buildings. He was a respected elder at his church, leading choirs with his tenor voice.
But the people closest to him said Heatley kept his innermost thoughts quiet.
“He wouldn’t tell his story,” said the Rev. Harold N. Brooks Jr., his pastor at the First Baptist Church on Minnesota Avenue in Southeast Washington.
It was only after Heatley died on June 18 at the age of 79 from complications of covid-19 that Brooks realized he had missed a chance to quiz his friend on his thoughts about the frayed relationship between the police and the community during this period of racial and social upheaval.
Heatley was the one who started his church’s annual tradition of providing meals to the officers at the D.C. police department’s 6th District station, though he was too ill to attend the latest delivery of box lunches.
“I wish now that I had talked to him, to get his perspective,” Brooks said.
Brooks described Heatley as the elder statesman of the church he has led for the past 15 years, the man the pastor turned to for advice, the man who, even as he slowly lost his sight to diabetes, never missed a Sunday service, Wednesday Bible study class or a weekday choir rehearsal.
“The story of our church is not adequately told without adding Robert Heatley’s name,” Brooks said.
Heatley grew up in Hollin Hills in Virginia, near Mount Vernon. After he graduated from high school, he joined the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Minot, N.D., where he stayed for four years. He married his wife, Diane, when he got out of the service; the two had been raised in the same Hollin Hills neighborhood.
In 1966, he joined the Protective Services Division of the D.C. Department of General Services, responsible for protecting municipal buildings and workers, his family said. He retired after 34 years, according to his son, Robert Christian Heatley, 38.
The District confirmed his employment and his years of service with the city but said more detailed records were in storage and unavailable.
During his time on the force, Heatley took classes at the University of the District of Columbia and graduated from the Wilbur Henry Waters School of Religion Inc. and Theological Seminary in Prince George’s County, Md.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Peter Hermann