Dr. A. Gilbert Heebner, In Memoriam

St. Davids, PA, October 4, 2017:

In our time, the curse is monetary illiteracy, just as inability to read plain print was the curse of earlier centuries. —Ezra Pound

Dr. A. Gilbert Heebner may never have quoted Ezra Pound, but he most certainly concurred with the renowned poet’s assertion about the curse of monetary ignorance. Gil was always faithful to trumpet the critical importance that all students—including those studying liberal arts subjects—should have a good working knowledge of at least basic economics.

Gil caught the “economic bug” during his undergraduate years at the University of Denver after serving in the U.S. Navy during the latter part of World War II. Dr. Heebner flirted with law school—to the point of being accepted at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Law—but economics was the discipline that had captured his warm heart and powerful mind.

After graduation from Penn with a master’s degree in economics and a two-year teaching stint at the College of Wooster, in Ohio, Gil and his wife, Dorothy, returned home to Philadelphia, where he became a commercial lending officer at Philadelphia National Bank. It was a position he hadn’t expected to hold for long, but his love of economics diverted him into that role for the money center bank, where he rose to Chief Economist.

In 1967, the University of Pennsylvania bestowed on him a doctoral degree in business and applied economics. This was Dr. Heebner’s future ticket back to academia, his first professional love. Yet, there was still work to be done at Philadelphia National Bank analyzing economic trends and related matters that successfully guided the financial institution over several decades.

A two-year leave from the bank in 1971 and 1972 found Dr. Heebner lending his considerable expertise to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, in Washington, DC. He returned to Philadelphia National Bank from which he retired in 1987 and, then, joined the faculty of then Eastern College as Distinguished Professor of Economics. He retired from Eastern ten years later, in 1997.

Many don’t know that Dr. Heebner exhibited a lot more than academic, economic and business prowess during his full, rich life. On 9/11, Gil and Dorothy were in New York for an economics conference—at the Marriott Hotel at the base of the World Trade Center. When the first plane hit, flaming debris, including airliner landing gear parts, cascaded down outside their tenth-floor hotel room window.

Calmly but quickly, Gil led Dorothy down ten flights of stairs out onto the chaos on the streets. While most people made their way north, the Heebners headed south to Battery Park, where they were fortunate to board the last available ferry to New Jersey. This was but one example of how the intrepid Dr. Heebner used his good sense and native intelligence to go in a different direction than others.

For a decade, Eastern University shared the tremendous classroom benefit of Gil Heebner’s extraordinary life. Later, he contributed not only his wisdom as a member of the Board of Trustees but also his enduring financial success as a generous donor. On September 23rd, we lost Gil, age 90. He’s survived by his wife, Dorothy, and nieces and nephews.

As Eastern Professor Van Weigel so elegantly put it, “Dr. Heebner left a remarkable legacy among the faculty and students at Eastern. Gil epitomized the meaning of collegiality with his gracious manner and deep insight.…First and foremost, [however] Gil was a devout Christian who never divorced his disciplinary love for economics and economic policy from his care and devotion to people. His legacy will never be forgotten at Eastern!”

A memorial service commemorating this special man’s life will be held on Monday, October 9th, at 11 a.m. in the auditorium of Rydal Park, in Abington, Pennsylvania.