Editor’s note: Thanks, Neil

"He’s a man of resounding awareness, both of himself and the world around him."
Neil Heinen and his wife, Nancy Christy, stand in their backyard along with their dog, Macaroon, who is a bouvier des Flandres.
Photo by Sharon Vanorny
Neil Heinen and his wife, Nancy Christy, stand in their backyard along with their dog, Macaroon, who is a bouvier des Flandres.

I apologize in advance for the overused early 2000s reference, but the announcements at our office over the past few months have me hoping Ashton Kutcher will jump out from behind a dumpster and tell us we’re being punk’d.

First, Neil Heinen, our longtime editorial director, announced his retirement. We knew the day would come, but none of us really wanted to believe it would.

Then, we learned our de facto publisher, vice president and general manager Tom Keeler, would be moving on to a new opportunity after about five years at the helm of Morgan Murphy Media’s Madison office. His fearless leadership, surprising humor and unending energy truly made every day interesting.

Taking these two names off the top of our masthead this month pained me. In just a few short years, Tom became the publication’s biggest advocate and kept our ship righted with a lot of behind-the-scenes work. And for two decades, Neil has lent his wise words, innumerable connections and ironclad credibility to our pages.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say Neil’s moral compass makes the average person’s look more like a planchette on a ouija board. He has been my true north in all things, and he’s been a player in so many important community discussions and decisions. In his final “For the Record” column, he names just a few of the initiatives and entities for which he’s helped formulate a vision.

He’s a man of resounding awareness, both of himself and the world around him. Within a media company that includes a TV news station, a local news website and a city-regional magazine, Neil’s role became an entity unto itself. You watch the news to stay informed and in touch with the day-to-day, you read the magazine to dig into your city’s stories and see what’s ahead, and you listen to Neil Heinen to have your faith in humanity restored.

Neil mentioned to me how overwhelmed he’s been by the outpouring of appreciation in response to the announcement of his retirement. I know this column will only add more to the pile. So in an effort to even the scales a bit for good measure, I know there are at least three things that are saying “thank God he’s retiring”:

– His keyboard, having suffered a tremendous amount of abuse from years of a very aggressive typing style.
– The sea of ties that hung from the back of his office door that never really felt special or appreciated when Neil blindly plucked one from the coat rack ahead of an episode taping of For the Record.
– His dog, Macaroon, who was going to absolutely lose it if he had to watch Neil struggle to get connected to ONE more weekly video meeting.

In all seriousness, Neil’s next chapter is well deserved. My promise to readers — besides bringing him back as a freelance writer once he’s ready — is that our work will continue to embody the tenets that defined his professional career, which include reasonability, optimism and the power of listening.

He’s taught us all to view the world, no matter how ugly it gets, with compassion and open-mindedness.

Let’s show Neil that it’s all been worth it.