Max Heller

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Max Moses Heller
29th Mayor of Greenville, South Carolina
In office
July 13, 1971 – January 30, 1979
Preceded by R. Cooper White, Jr.
Succeeded by James H. Simkins
Member of the Greenville City Council from District 4
In office
1969–1971
Preceded by R. Cooper White, Jr.
Succeeded by James H. Simkins
Personal details
Born (1919-05-28)May 28, 1919
Vienna, Austria
Died June 13, 2011(2011-06-13) (aged 92)
Greenville, South Carolina, USA
Resting place Beth Israel Cemetery in Greenville
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Trude Schonthal Heller (married 1942-2011, his death)
Children Francie Heller

Susan Heller Moses
Steven Heller
Ten grandchildren

Parents Israel and Leah Hirschl Heller
Residence Greenville, South Carolina
Occupation Businessman
Religion Judaism

Max Moses Heller (May 28, 1919 – June 13, 2011) was a businessman who served from July 13, 1971 to January 30, 1979 as the 29th mayor of Greenville, South Carolina. He was also a member of the Greenville City Council from 1969 to 1971[1] and later chairman of the South Carolina State Development Board.

Heller has been called "the father of Greenville" because of his "vision, integrity, and compassion."[2] The Max Heller Convention Center in Greenville is named in his honor.[3]

Background[edit]

The Jewish Heller was a native of Vienna, Austria. In 1938, as Nazi Germany annexed Austria, Heller, at nineteen, sought to emigrate to the United States. With the help of Mary Mills, a young Christian woman from Greenville whom he met while she was on a European tour, Heller obtained a sponsor so that he could leave Austria and as it developed avoid the Holocaust. At Miss Mills' request, Shepherd Saltzman, a Jewish man in Greenville who owned the Piedmont Shirt Company, agreed to offer employment to young Heller.[2] He soon brought his parents, Israel Heller (1888-1975) and the former Leah Hirschl (1895-1965), and other family members to Greenville.[3]

In 1942, Heller married the former Trude Schonthal, whom he had known as a child in Vienna. She had emigrated in 1941 to New York City, and the two were reunited after having been apart for several years. The couple was married on Main Street in Greenville and was together for sixty-nine years until his death in 2011. In time, Heller became the manager of the Piedmont Shirt Company, but in 1948, he launched his own firm, Maxon Shirt Company. He began with 16 employees but had 700 when he sold the company in 1962 and officially retired six years later[3] at the age of forty-nine with plans to devote the next phase of his life to public service. Gene Covington, a friend of Heller's, said that the businessman's "sense of gratitude for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was awe-inspiring to me. Even now I get tears in my eyes when I think of him, he was such a godly man in every thought, word, and deed."[2]

Political life[edit]

After two years on the city council, Heller was elected mayor of Greenville, in which capacity he sought to increase the availability of affordable housing. During his eight years in the position, his focus also centered upon downtown revitalization, a need adopted as well by several of his mayoral successors, particularly Bill Workman and current mayor Knox H. White. Heller worked to revive Main Street, which was converted from a four-lane thoroughfare into a two-lane street with wide sidewalks[3] configured in the style of a "European village" with street lights, green spaces, and flower planters.[2]

Heritage Green was established at the location of the former Greenville Woman's College and houses the Hughes Main Library, which serves all of Greenville County, the Charles E. Daniel Theatre, and the Greenville County Museum of Art. In 1978, through a Federal Urban Development Action grant, downtown Greenville became the location of the Hyatt Regency and the Max Heller Convention Center on North Main Street.[3]

Upon taking office in 1971, Heller desegregated all municipal departments and commissions. In 1975, he created the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, an annual event for those of all faiths.[3]

In 1978, Heller won the Democratic nomination for South Carolina's 4th congressional district seat to succeed the retiring James Mann, but he was defeated by the Republican nominee Carroll A. Campbell, Jr., later the governor of South Carolina. Despite negative slurs cast against him in the congressional campaign, Heller remained amiable and charitable. Another friend, Champ Covington, said, "He had a rough go politically, but he never slapped back, he never got even, he never responded in a negative tone to anyone. ..."[2]

The same month that Campbell became a congressman, Heller was appointed by newly elected Democratic Governor Richard Riley as the chairman of the State Development Board. In this position, Heller recruited such businesses as Michelin North America and Digital Computer. State business recruitment under Heller surpassed $1 billion.[2] Heller pursued industrial diversification; during his five years as chairman of the development board, more than 65,000 jobs were created statewide.[3]

Honors[edit]

Heller received many awards during his public career. In 1975, Furman University in Greenville awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. He was similarly honored by Clemson University and Winthrop University.[4] In 1998, Furman presented Heller with its Bell Tower Award for his service to the university. Furman named its student services program the Max and Trude Heller Service Corps. Furman awards the Max Heller Community Scholarship to one student from each of the fifteen public high schools in Greenville County, based upon nomination by the school. In 1970, Heller was named "Man of the Year" from the National Council of Jewish Women. He received the Whitney Young Humanitarian Award from the Greenville chapter of the National Urban League, named for the civil rights activist Whitney M. Young, Jr. The Greenville Chamber of Commerce named its neighborhood improvement award in his honor.[3] On Heller's 90th birthday, May 28, 2009, a bronze sculpture and storyboards were unveiled in his honor on Greenville's Main Street.[4]

Heller died at the age of ninety-two. In addition to his widow, he was survived by three children, Francie Heller, Susan Heller Moses, the widow of Edward Moses, and Steven Heller and wife Margaret, and ten grandchildren. He was a member of the Congregation Beth Israel and is interred at Beth Israel Cemetery in Greenville.[4]

In 2011, then U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, a Greenville native and a Republican, eulogized Heller: "Our state has lost a great leader with the passing of Max Heller. I will always remember Mayor Heller as a man with a generational vision for what Greenville could become. But, more than that, he was a man of action who rallied community leaders to make those ideas reality. His tenacity set downtown Greenville on its current path of success and spurred the economic investments that have brought jobs and tourism to the Upstate. The people of Greenville and the state owe him a debt of gratitude."[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Historical Archives: Mayors and Intendants, with photos". greenvillesc.gov. Retrieved May 20, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Katrina Daniel, A Tribute to Max Heller, August 1, 2011". Greenville Business Magazine. Retrieved May 20, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Max Heller Biography". Furman University. Retrieved May 20, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c "Max Moses Heller". findagrave.com. Retrieved May 20, 2014. 
Preceded by
R. Cooper White, Jr.
29th Mayor of Greenville, South Carolina

Max Moses Heller
1971–1979

Succeeded by
James H. Simkins
Preceded by
R. Cooper White, Jr.
Member of the Greenville City Council

Max Moses Heller
1969–1971

Succeeded by
James H. Simkins