Tribute to Bill Heenan



December 7, 2013
Important News

Message from NRC President and CEO Mark Lichtenstein

A Tribute to Bill Heenan (1948 - 2013)


This age of light-speed information has probably delivered to you the sad news that my (our) very good friend Bill Heenan left this plane of existence two days ago. To say I'm filled with grief understates how I truly feel.

Bill's memorial services are today (Sunday) at Beinhauer Funeral Home, U.S. 19, Peters Township (2828 Washington Road, McMurray, PA), from 5:00 to 7:00 PM. At 6:00 the memorial service will start. Here is the link, where you find many ways to participate:

Bill was a lifetime (honorary) board member of the National Recycling Coalition and was President of the Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) from 1990 until 2010, when he retired after nearly 40 years of service in the steel industry. Earlier this year, he was bestowed with the coveted Steel Market Development Institute Lifetime Achievement Award. Bill's positive contributions to the NRC and recycling in general are beyond comprehension. My friend, colleague, and fellow NRC Board Member Mick Barry captured it:

"We have lost a great personal friend and a Global Champion of Recycling."


Mick Barry, Terry Guerin, Bill and me--NRC in Austin, 2002. They were too scared to get on that Longhorn!
Many are reaching out to me with ideas about how we can memorialize Bill, and we will. There is a growing list of testimonials below, including a very thoughtful piece by John Frederick. I encourage you to share with me your thoughts about Bill at. Thanks to a suggestion by Susan Collins of our board, we will be providing a compilation for his family.

I am going to use the rest of this bully pulpit to cover my sorrow by burning into my memory a few fond recollections of a mentor and solid friend. To that end, as you've no doubt noted, I've taken liberty by including some of my personal photos of Bill. Excuse the quality as they are from a bygone era.

NRC Board 1995. Bill is sitting front right.

I'm so glad to have spoken with 
Greg Crawford Friday. Greg, current President of SRI, told me that SRI's team had the great fortune to enjoy a meal and quality time with Bill three days ago. As will resonate with those of who know Bill, according to Greg, Bill was in his element--happy to no end! My heart is warmed thinking about the quips - Irish and others - that are sure to have left Bill's lips during their gathering. Here's an Irish sentiment I'm sure Bill would have said, and it is certainly guidance to which he adhered:

"May you have the hindsight to know where you've been,

The foresight to know where you are going, and

The insight to know when you have gone too far!"

When I think of the moments he enjoyed over the last few days, I'm going to remember that vision of Bill with his SRI family in Pittsburgh.

Perusing one of our industry rags from back in 1997 (Waste News, 5/19/97), I recall buckling at the knees gazing upon this byline:
"Being Wacko Has Pluses!"

Take a moment to digest what Alan Gerlat wrote those 16 years ago, as it condenses much of what Bill was about:

"Bill Heenan wants recycling to get more publicity, and he doesn't really care how. Even if it means being made fun of by Rush Limbaugh. The president of the Steel Recycling Institute recently got called an 'environmental wacko' by the conservative commentator in a column that ran in ... The Limbaugh Letter. Limbaugh mocked the position of Heenan and others that recycling isn't getting enough coverage ithe general media... It seems a bit farfetched to call the head of a group that's funded by the steel industry an environmental wacko..."

"'I don't mind being called an environmental wacko,' [Heenan] said. 'We look at anything in print as good news!' Heenan's clearly a recycling advocate, and he makes no bones about the fact that he'll do whatever he can to help promote his cause. As one board member for the steel recycling group said jokingly to Heenan after the Limbaugh comment, 'I always knew you were a wacko. Now I know what kind'."

Bill was a "shirt off your back" kind of person--dropping everything to help his friends. I certainly benefited in that regard.

Me, NRC Co-founder and benefactor Murray Fox, and Bill. NRC Portland Congress--1994.

He made me laugh...those kinds of belly laughs that are all too few and far between.

There was that time in Dallas.

After an afternoon of planning a recycling take-over of the world with colleagues, it immediately became time for Bill to go home (a.k.a. his hotel). When Bill made up his mind, there was no stopping, or even slowing him down. Was that not a truism of his entire life? He was out the door while his partners in crime tried to yell to him. There was no turning back. In seconds, he was in his cab. We heard the directive: "Take me home!" The cab moved no more than 10 feet. The cab driver exited the car, opened Bill's door, and let Bill out at his hotel (yes, the same one where we'd been collecting ourselves for the afternoon)! Many of us delighted in one those deep belly laughs for sure!

I intend no disparaging implications with this story as Bill wasn't the only one of us confused as to our precise location. No Google Maps back in those dark ages of I.T.

On second thought, no, it wasn't confusion on his part. "Take me home!" In fact, that plea was actually respected by the clairvoyant cabbie. Indeed, Bill was home. He was with his friends.

Friends and family, that's what Bill was about. We can learn so much from his priorities as epitomized and embodied by the full life he led.


My good friend Bill,

"May the road rise to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

The rains fall soft upon your fields and,

Until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand."


To all of you, especially during this holiday season, might I implore you take extra time to truly embrace and value those for whom you care about.

My gracious best to you all, to Bill's family, and to Bill, who - as I write this - is likely toasting St. Peter with a pint of Rolling Rock.

Mark "McGuiness" Lichtenstein

President and CEO

National Recycling Coalition, Inc.



 A Growing List of Testimonials About Bill...

Bill was one of my most favorite people in the world.

Fran McPoland

Bill was one of the best in so many ways.

Marjie Griek

It feels like we've all known him forever and that he'd be there forever.

Lisa Skumatz

Bill always had more life and "spunk" in him than anyone I have ever known. I know how very important the NRC was to him.

Robin Wiener

He helped create that amazing environment in the early 90's when so many of us came together at the NRC - the grassroots, government and big business - to forever change the waste industry. RIP buddy...many of us hold you in our hearts, and I hope you're enjoying where you've landed, cause wherever it is, you earned it.

Eric Lombardi

Bill was a great leader of recycling in America and was a passionate supporter of the National Recycling Coalition. Bill, thanks for all you did for our cause!

Gary Liss

[Bill,] yes passionate indeed! And, in that spirit, let us not forget he threw some GREAT recycling parties--thinking of Nashville and Kansas City NRCs among others. Thanks Bill, you will indeed be missed for all sorts of reasons.

Blair Pollock

Those of you who knew Bill knew that his sense of humor was only surpassed by his dedication to our industry. 

Larry Kavanagh 

I am deeply saddened at Bill's passing as I'm sure so many of those Bill had touched are as well.Bil
l took so many under his wing and positively influenced their lives and careers. [Let's develop something to] communicate the importance, respect, care, and unity of thought of Bill's importance to the NRC and industry.

Stephen Bantillo

 A Special Note About Bill from John Frederick

I will remember many things about Bill Heenan. Many will laud him for his tireless work in the recycling industry. But that thing that will make me smile even at this difficult time is how often he made me laugh.

He was very smart and incredibly hard working. Yet it might have been his sincerely pleasant demeanor, respectful manner and sense of humor that made him the successful and highly renowned professional he was. Many others in the position of importance and influence, like Bill held with the Steel Recycling Institute, would have used it as justification to be an arrogant and aloof executive, but Bill would have none of that.

Bill treated me as a peer, even though his knowledge, expertise and clout far exceeded my own. One of my greatest sources of professional pride came about a decade ago when Bill told me I was "doing a hell of a job" with the state recycling organization I worked for at the time. I particularly valued the thought, for I knew that Bill was not one to heap false praise on anyone. He was forthright and spoke his mind, yet had that uncanny ability to be frank without being offensive or demeaning.

He was generous, too. Whether it was financial support, presenting at a conference or professional training class or insight on an important issue, Bill never turned us down. Everyone you talk to on the NRC front points to his incredible support of the national organization as well.

After Bill had made a trip to China some years back, I asked him if he would talk with us about China's growing impact on the industry. Bill could have easily lamented that he was busy and passed the request off to a staffer. Instead, he presented a session at our conference and gave me a lengthy interview for our magazine. His insight on China was not limited to the typical dry analysis of export data or government subsidization of the industry. Bill explained that it was impossible to understand China's motivations and strategies unless you understood China's demographics, economics and politics. It was clear that Bill's grasp of those crucial connected issues far exceeded many of the decision makers that formulated national policy.

Bill also believed that our international environmental concerns should go beyond China's dirty steel mills and polluted air. Diminishing sources and amounts of clean water, he stressed, were the greatest areas of concern over the next fifty years. Bill saw the big picture (and in many ways) that most associated with big business never see.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to Bill, though, is what people thought of him as a person - recycling aside. I'm not sure if I have ever heard such universal sadness for the passing of a professional colleague. I suppose it is because he was more than a colleague; he was simply a great guy.

As mutual friend and colleague Joanne Shafer quipped upon learning of Bill's passing, he just wasn't a character but an individual of character.

John Frederick, recently appointed to the NRC board after serving on the board of the Recycling Organizations of North America, was executive director of the Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania from 1997-2009 where he first met Bill Heenan.



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