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Ray Heise spent 36 years working for the Village of Oak Park's law department, crafting landmark laws that banned handguns or acknowledged gay partnerships, drawing national attention. During his tenure, he served almost 70 elected officials, and had his hands on some 2,400 different local ordinances.
Friends, family and coworkers said their goodbyes, both funny and poignant, during a going-away party last week at the Nineteenth Century Club, 178 Forest Ave. There, former and current village presidents, among others, told their Heise stories from over the years. Village Manager Tom Barwin said the longtime village attorney deserves extra praise, because of the unending meetings and very involved residents of Oak Park.
"Having managed five communities, this being my fifth, I can tell you this unequivocally: One year in Oak Park is like three years anywhere else," he said.
Over the past 36 years, Heise has developed a reputation for keeping a messy office, occasionally burning the midnight oil and always having a story to tell. Alex Alexandrou, a former risk manager for the village, said his job interview with Heise back in the '90s turned into an unusual battle between him and Heise.
"By the time the two-hour mark hit, it was really a contest of wills between Ray and I — who could tell the better story," said Alexandrou, to a round of laughs.
Virginia Cassin, the village clerk from 1973 to 1993, called Heise a "breath of fresh air" at village hall, saying that he wore an afro and bell bottoms and made a tradition of delivering Christmas wreaths to employees' homes. The two would often stay up chitchatting late into the night after hours at work.
"Remember, he's my son's age. Nothing was going on after midnight," Cassin said. "But we had the best old visits at village hall."
Heise's wife, Lynn, said she learned to adjust to her husband never being around on Mondays, because of meetings. He loved working for Oak Park so much, she said, that you'd never hear her husband say he'd rather be somewhere else.
"If it wasn't for me, I think Ray would have done it for free," she said.
Current village Trustee Ray Johnson took his comments in a more serious direction. He lauded Heise for his work crafting a domestic partnership registry law, which gave government acknowledgement to gay couples. Johnson said he knows gays who proudly display the partnership-registry certificates on their walls, or near the casket of a deceased partner.
"It's been said that your fingerprints have been left on a lot of ordinances, but what's more important to me are the handprints you've left on the hearts of so many in this community," Johnson said.