MEET PAT HELLER
When I "grow up," Iíd like to become a generalist. That is the opposite of a specialist who knows more and more about less and less. There are so many interesting things in the world that I just cannot see myself restricting my interests. I would rather know a bit about a lot of different areas. Fortunately, my life has afforded me the opportunity to do this more than most people.
Patrick A. Heller, the long time Treasurer and now the senior member of Cryonics Instituteís Board of Directors, was born in Jackson, Michigan but grew up in different places in Michigan, Wisconsin, and the African nations of Sudan and Liberia.
My father was a teacher and a builder, so he kept moving up the ladder from junior high school shop teacher to a college professor in a program where skilled trades people earned their teaching credentials. My mother was a dietitian who also studied management and who eventually ended up near the top of the organizational chart at a large Michigan institution for the mentally retarded.
From both parents, I absorbed a hard work ethic. Even though both worked for governments for the greater part of their careers, they both taught me that government is usually the worst way to try to get something accomplished. One early example happened when we moved to Sudan when my father entered the foreign aid program.
The house we were assigned was literally at the edge of the capital city of Khartoum. The Sahara Desert started at our back wall. It was hot and the house had no air conditioners. The agency sent out a team of workers to install air conditioners. It took four men four days to knock a hole in the wall and install the first air conditioner. My father was tired of it taking so long, so he spent one afternoon assisted by only me (then a six-year old) to install the other four air conditioners.
Another lesson I saw first hand was in the country of Liberia. The U.S. taxpayers had paid for the construction of 20 schools around the country at a cost of $280,000. None of the schools were being used. On top of that, the materials used to construct the schools were not the best for the humid damp climate and could not be repaired using the skills of the average Liberian national. My father designed a two-room school with an office and store room that could be built for a materials cost of $1,000.
Through the missionaries working around the country he spread word of his offer to visit and consult with any village that would put up the money and the labor to build this school. Before he left Liberia, six of these schools were already finished and all were being used. Best of all, the schools were built out of materials suited for the climate and that the natives used to build their own dwellings. Therefore, the maintenance needs were less and could be handled easily locally.
In part because of my travels, I became a coin collector at the age of eleven. Handling money fascinated me. In my sophomore year in high school, I was assigned to write a term paper on what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wrote about becoming a meteorologist because I didnít think it would be "all right" to want to become a coin dealer.
School was never that difficult for me, and I excelled at taking tests. Although my test scores were right at the top of my classes, I never cared to work hard to get top grades. That lack of study skills almost proved my downfall at the University of Michigan. I was dropped from the honors program and barely got my grade point high enough to transfer into the business school at the end of my sophomore year.
What saved me was accounting courses. While my classmates thought that accounting was difficult, it came naturally to me. I earned "A"s in just about every accounting course. It even propped up my grade point enough that I was able to earn my BBA degree "with distinction."
While in college, the mistrust of government that I learned from my parents turned into full-blown libertarianism. I spent as much time studying philosophy, economics, history, politics, and related subjects for fun as I did studying for my academic courses. I also read a lot of libertarian fiction including one book by Robert A. Heinlein titled The Door Into Summer. This book discusses suspended animation as an existing technology, much like cryonics.
After college, I was hired by a local certified public accounting firm in the Detroit, Michigan suburbs. I set the office record for the high score on the CPA exam in passing all parts on my first attempt, and then became one of the youngest CPAs in Michigan once I fulfilled the experience requirement.
Working as a CPA was wonderful. The work was easy, my firm had a lot of great people, and the diverse clientele were interesting. Rather than try to specialize in one industry, I immersed myself in working with clients from all kinds of service, manufacturing, and non-profit fields.
I fully expected to stay with this firm for my lifeís career. Toward the end of my time there, I prepared the financial statements and tax returns for the CPA firm itself, and also did the analysis of employee profitability so I saw firsthand that I was the most profitable and highest paid non-partner at the firm. I figured I was about a year away from becoming a partner when my life took a detour.
I had a girlfriend who attended Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing. I saw an ad by Liberty Coins, located just a couple blocks from MSU, in one of my libertarian magazines, so I visited the company in 1975 for the first time. I resumed my collecting interest that had been put away during my college days and became friends with the proprietor, R. W. "Bill" Bradford. When the prices of gold and silver shot up to crazy levels in early 1980, Bradford realized enough profits to be able to retire at the age of 32. When Bill asked if I was interested in buying his company, I told him noóI enjoyed my work and compensation enough to want to stay where I was. As a friend, I tried to help him structure a deal selling the company to others. Bill was impressed enough with the profits I made as a private investor and with my knowledge of the business world that he decided that I was going to buy the company from him. It took six months to persuade me and was probably his best sales job ever.
I came to Liberty coins in the spring of 1981 as part owner and the on-site manager. The industry was on the downside of a market cycle as gold, silver, and rare coin prices fell. Times were tough for several years. However, our policy of being an aggressive competitor on wide product selection, good prices, and fast, friendly service eventually earned endorsements from several investment newsletter writers.
The company has now grown almost 20 times since I first arrived. Since 1995, I have been the sole owner and have written the companyís monthly newsletter. Liberty Coin Service has grown to become the largest coin dealership in Michigan, with customers in every state.
My days of coin dealing have brought their share of adventures. I was perhaps the main figure in the four-year long effort to enact a sales tax exemption on the retail sales of rare coins and precious metals in Michigan. Although I had occasion to meet several people that I hold in high regard, the process of getting legislation enacted is not pretty.
Later, I was appointed by Governor Engler to the Michigan Quarter Commission to work on designs for the Michigan quarter that was released at the start of 2004. This was a task I really wanted. I probably did more work than anyone else on soliciting ideas for the design, and examined more submissions than any other member of the Commission.
For the Michigan quarter, the U.S. Mint specified that no art work be submitted, just a written description of each candidate design. It ended up that I was the primary author of all five designs sent to the Mint. So, in a way, you might say that I was the "artist" of the Michigan quarter, though the actual master artwork was created by U.S. Mint engraver Donna Weaver. I had the honor to be one of four people to meet with Michigan Governor Granholm when she selected the final design for the Michigan quarter, then was able to attend the Michigan Quarter Ceremonial Strike Ceremony for the beginning of production of Michigan quarters at the Denver Mint.
I met my wife Pamela in 1991, and gained an instant family when we married late that year. Although Pam does not want cryonic suspension for herself, she is even more optimistic than I am that it will eventually work. Pam has a wonderful set of social and nurturing skills and a lot of other talents to balance my ineptitude in those directions.
We now have three adult children, Alina, Mary, and Ashley and two at home, Daniel and Amy, plus seven grandchildren. Daniel and Amy, were adopted from the Marshall Islands after our attempt to grow our own ended in the stillbirth of Camryn.
Daniel gained some renown when he accompanied me to the Denver Mint ceremony and struck a Michigan quarter given to Governor Granholm as well as one for himself. One of the U.S. Mint employees was quoted as saying that Daniel was the youngest person ever to strike a U.S. coin (he was six years old at the time). When I called the Mint to verify that information, they qualified it to say that he was the youngest they knew of, but that they just donít keep such records and could not say for sure if that was true.
But this essay is supposed to describe how I developed my interest in cryonics. When I read the Heinlein story, the description of the long sleep didnít strike me as anything technologically impossible. Then, in the late 1970s, a libertarian magazine called Freedom Today included an article called "The Race Against Time" which discussed cryonics and listed names and addresses to contact for more information. I quickly wrote to all the listed organizations, then joined Cryonics Institute. My choice was significantly influenced by geography, with CIís address just a few miles from where I lived at the time. However, I also like the conceptual approach that if cryonics can be successful, it will be possible to repair problems attributed to a cost-effective rather than price-is-no-object preparation and storage capability. I have partially prepaid for my suspension and have CI as partial beneficiary of my life insurance to pay the balance.
About a year after joining CI, Robert Ettinger called me to see if I would be willing to donate my accounting talents as CI treasurer. At the time, Bob and I only lived about a mile from each other, and the bookkeeping was quite simple, so I volunteered. Now, more than 25 years later, I am still Treasurer and on the Board of Directors. My skills are not of the scientific or engineering bent, but I contribute my time to keep down CIís overhead.
Although running a growing business and raising a family take up lots of time, I do have other interests. I am a voracious reader in my spare time (what spare time?) and love to travel. I have been to every state and almost 30 foreign countries. My dream is to live long enough to visit every country on earth, then move to live on a space colony somewhere.
Did I mention I was a writer of some sort? In December 1988, The Wall Street Journal printed my letter to the editor on the subject of cryonics. I also had a small piece in The Journal of Accountancy in January 1980. The data and analysis I write in my companyís newsletter is reprinted or cited elsewhere dozens of times every year. I have even written several songs, four books of poetry, and a number of short stories, with limited publishing success.
All in all, if I live long enough, I just might have time to become a generalist.