Francis Heller

A Mass of Christian Burial for Francis H. Heller, 95, Denver, CO, formerly of Lawrence, will be held at 10 a.m., Saturday, January 26, 2013, at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Lawrence.  Inurnment will follow at Pioneer Cemetery in Lawrence.  After a short illness, he died peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at Clermont Park Retirement Community in Denver, CO.  A celebration of life reception will be held for family, friends and former colleagues, at the Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence, commencing at 12:00 noon on Saturday, January 26th.

Francis was born on August 24, 1917 in Vienna, Austria, the son of Charles and Lily (Grunwald) Heller.  He was naturalized in the United States in 1943.  

He was a resident of Lawrence from 1948 until 2008, when he moved to Denver, CO to be near family.

He proudly served his country in the U.S. Army during WWII and the Korean War.  He began as a Private and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant (battlefield commission), serving at that rank from 1942 – 1947, and then served as a Captain from 1951 – 1952 in the Southwest Pacific/Japan.  During his military service, he earned numerous commendations and medals, including the Silver Star for valor in combat.

He graduated from the Schottengymnasium (high school) in Vienna, Austria in 1935, and from the University of Vienna Law School in 1937.  He received his J.D. from the University of Virginia in 1941, where he also received his Masters in German Literature and a Masters in Political Science.  He went on to earn his Ph.D. in Political Science in 1948 from the University of Virginia.

Francis was an Assistant Professor of Government at the College of William and Mary in 1947, and an Assistant Professor of Political Science from 1948 – 1951 at the University of Kansas.  He served as the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Law and Political Science from 1972 – 1988 and was the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor Emeritus from 1988 until he retired in the spring of 2003.

Also while at KU, he was the Director of the Western Civilization Program Kansas from 1956 – 1957, Director of the College Honors Program from 1957 – 1962, Associate Dean of Faculties from 1966 – 1967, Chief Academic Officer (Dean of Faculties: title changed 1970 to Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs) from 1967-1972, and Acting Provost at the Lawrence Campus from 1967-1970.

He received the University of Kansas Higher Education Service Award in 1974, the Chancellor’s Club Career Teaching Award in 1986, the Distinguished Service Citation (which is the highest award at KU for a professor) in 1998, and the Republic of Austria Cross of Honor for Science and Art (First Class) in 2004.  At the University Press of Kansas, he was Chair of the Board of Trustees from 1967 – 1972 and a member of the editorial board from 1972 – 1976.  At the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, he served as a member of the Civilian Educators’ Advisory Committee from 1969 – 1972.  For the City of Lawrence, he was a search committee member for the position of City Manager of Lawrence.

Francis was honored to serve as the chief assistant to Former U.S.  President Harry S. Truman in the researching and writing of the President’s memoirs.  His close association with President Truman over many years led to his involvement with the Harry S. Truman Library Institute (Independence, MO), where he served as Vice President for several years.

Acknowledging the debt that he owed the Benedictine monks who educated him at school in Vienna and helped shape his character as a youth, Francis was honored and delighted to be involved with the Benedictine community of Kansas.  He was a member of the Board at Benedictine College in Atchison from 1971 – 79, served as its Chair from 1973 – 79 and was then made an Emeritus Board Member.  Granting its two highest honors to Francis in recognition of his service, the College conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters upon him in 1988 and also awarded him the Cross of the Order of St. Benedict.  

During his career, Francis published nineteen (19) books (including the autobiographical “Steel Helmet and Mortarboard: An Academic in Uncle Sam’s Army”, published in 2009), sixty-six (66) articles, and two hundred twenty one (221) book reviews and notices.

He was married to Donna Concannon Munn of Garden City on September 3, 1949.  She preceded him in death on December 15, 1990.

Survivors include one son, Denis Heller, and one granddaughter, Ashley Heller, both of Lawrence; two nephews, Lawrence Heller and Gilbert Heller, both of Colorado; and three nieces, Nicola Jacobs, Danielle Werts and Martyn Tourdot, all of California.  He was preceded in death by two brothers, Thomas and Stephen Heller.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that memorial contributions in his name be made to the Francis H. Heller Fund for the University Honors Program, a scholarship fund at the University of Kansas.  These may be sent directly to the KU Endowment Association or may be sent in care of the Warren-McElwain Mortuary in Lawrence.

7 Condolences

  1. Fr. James Shaughnessy on January 10, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    One of the most intelligent Catholic men that I have ever met and dealt with. May he have eternal rest.

  2. Denis W. Heller on January 24, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Rest in peace Dad. Love Denis

  3. ashley heller on January 25, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I will always remember you teaching me how to play chess. I love you. May you rest in peace with grandmother heller. Your granddaughter.

  4. Stephen Munzer on May 30, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Francis Heller was a dean of the College of Liberal Art and Science at KU when I was an undergraduate there (1962-66). He was a kind and dutiful mentor, and to this day I remain grateful for his concern for me. Only today did I learn that he had passed away. R.I.P.

    Stephen Munzer 5/30/13

  5. Robert Byrne on August 12, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Professor Heller was a great teacher. He was respectful toward students. He was a terrific storyteller. I remember a story that he told about Justice Scalia. I was especially fascinated by his collaboration with President Truman because my dad also knew the man from Independence.
    Early in my law school career, I asked him about a concept in constitutional law. He was very helpful. I appreciate that even today – thirty years on.
    He was very humble. I never heard him mention his tremendous war record.
    May he rest in peace with God.

  6. Lee Ayres on October 5, 2017 at 7:55 am

    I took two courses in constitutional law from Dean Heller my senior year at KU in 1963-64. Served me well in my government and community service. And has helped me have clarity in the midst of today’s political chaos. Had no idea he had earned a silver star. Bravo!. Lee Ayres

  7. Charles Cort on September 3, 2020 at 8:48 pm

    I never got to meet Mr. Heller, but my father, Hugh Cort Jr, had many interesting times with Mr. Heller in the Philippines and in Japan. My grandfather, Hugh Cort Sr., seemed to love Mr. Heller like a son. Our family treasures his book “Steel Helmet and Mortarboard” printed by the University of Missouri Press. Someone should make a movie of it one day!

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