CU Movement Loses an Icon

CU leaders mourn passing of former CUNA Mutual Group CEO Richard ‘Doc’ Heins.

May 11, 2013

The credit union movement lost one of its heroes with the passing of Richard M. “Doc” Heins, the former CUNA Mutual Group CEO described as an “icon for the credit union movement and for the CUNA/league system” by CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney.

“In a very real way, he charted the course for the partnership between CUNA and CUNA Mutual that serves all credit unions so well to this day,” Cheney says. “All of us will miss his visionary leadership and his consistent focus on supporting every aspect of our system.”

Richard Heins
Richard "Doc" Heins

Heins died Friday, May 3, at age 85. He’s survived by his wife, Ruth, their four daughters, and 10 grandchildren.

“Doc was ceaseless in his devotion to credit unions and cooperatives worldwide,” says Susan Newton, executive director of the American Association of Credit Union Leagues. “His legacy is stronger credit unions in America and a surging cooperative movement around the globe.”

The 2010 recipient of the Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement, Heins was the driving force behind many credit union innovations, Newton says, including:

  • The creation of a program that allows credit unions to write loans for as little as 5% down;
  • A pioneering application of applying age and health factors to insurance risk ratings;
  • Unwavering support for an independent federal regulator and insurer for credit unions;
  • Backing for the creation of the Filene Research Institute and its i3 group; and
  • International credit union development, including the effort to rebuild credit unions in Poland after the demise of the communist regime in that country.

Heins personally donated $40,000 to the Polish credit union community and worked directly with President Lech Walesa and the new Solidarity-led coalition government to establish a sound framework for Polish credit unions to thrive again.

“Doc was one of those rare individuals that possessed incredible creativity combined with a passion to collaborate,” says CUNA Mutual President/CEO Jeff Post. “The leadership and vision he provided is still being felt today. It was an honor to know him and learn from him.”

“Doc Heins always had an open mind and sought input to what else the organization could be doing,” adds Dick Ensweiler, CEO of the Texas Credit Union League. “Early in his full-time capacity he created the League Research and Advisory Committee. He used this group of a dozen league presidents to bounce strategies and programs off of and solicit their ideas. Those sessions were some of his favorite brainstorming adventures.”

During his nearly 40 years of association with CUNA Mutual—and more than 50 years within the cooperative movement overall—Heins' influence was tremendous, Cheney says. “When he was awarded the Herb Wegner Memorial Award, it was noted that throughout his career ‘he pushed us all to see beyond what is there and explore new possibilities.’ No more appropriate words have ever been said for such a vital man in the credit union movement.”

A full obituary appeared in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal. Funeral services will be held Thursday, May 9, at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Madison, Wis.