J. Arthur Heise was living in Berlin until he was held at gunpoint by Russians in 1953 and told he had 24 hours to get out.
So he came to the United States and became a journalist. Nearly 40 years later, he became the founding dean at Florida International University’s new School of Journalism.
Heise died on Friday at his home in Hendersonville, North Carolina, of complications from open heart surgery. He was 80.
“His passion was teaching journalism,” his son Mark Heise said. “He just had that passion to make sure the truth saw the light of day.”
Art Heise went to Syracuse University after arriving in the U.S., where he earned a bachelor’s and later a master’s degree in journalism. After serving for three years as an executive officer at the library of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Heise worked at the Buffalo Evening News and returned to Berlin to work for the Associated Press.
But in 1984, an offer to join the faculty of FIU drew him to South Florida. At FIU, he worked to institute a program to develop journalism in Latin American countries. His work secured an $18 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to teach journalism in the six Spanish speaking countries in Central America.
In 1991, he was asked to establish a school of journalism at FIU, an offer he saw as a challenge. Up to that point, he was chairman of the journalism program housed within the School of Arts and Sciences.
He set out to turn FIU, a school less than 25 years old at the time, into “a first-class institution with national recognition,” he told the student publication PantherNOW.
Within a year after striking out on its own, FIU’s journalism school gained accreditation. Six of Heise’s students went on to win Pulitzer Prizes either alone or in a team, with two of them doing so twice. Mark Heise said his father was always proud to see his students become working journalists.
“He was just always proud to read the Herald and see a former student’s name in there,” he said.
Heise retired in 2003, telling PantherNOW it would be a time for him to “decompress” and “smell the roses.”
But he didn’t relax much. Instead, he co-authored “Das Haus in East Berlin,” a book about his 10-year legal battle over a house his parents bought from a Jewish couple in Germany during the Holocaust.
“A Jew and non-Jew kind of collaborated together, starting with a lot of mistrust and ended up having a really warm, close relationship,” his son said, summarizing the book.
In addition to his son, Heise is survived by his wife, Simine, and three grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday at the Champions Golf Club in Hendersonville, North Carolina, followed by a private burial.