Henry B. “Hank” Heller, a Democrat who represented Montgomery County in the House of Delegates for two dozen years, died Wednesday at the age of 79. No cause of death was listed.
Heller, a longtime educator and union activist who served as president of the Montgomery County Education Association, was elected to represent District 19, which takes in portions of Silver Spring and unincorporated Rockville, in 1986.
District 19 Democrats were split for years between factions aligned with then-Sen. Idamae Garrott or former Del. Lucille Maurer, who was appointed state treasurer in 1987 after losing a Democratic primary challenge to Garrott in 1986. Heller, who was one of three new delegates elected in District 19 that year, was allied with Garrott. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, another new delegate that year who went on to serve in the Senate, was also a Garrott ally, while Carol S. Petzold, the other new District 19 delegate, was in the Maurer camp.
During his time in Annapolis, Heller largely focused on education policy, splitting his time between the Ways and Means and Appropriations committees. He was one of just five delegates from Montgomery County to vote in favor of state funding for two new football stadiums, one in Baltimore and the other in Landover. The vote, though unpopular in his district, was worth it, he later explained, because it brought extra school construction funding into Montgomery County.
Like Garrott, Heller was also an avid environmentalist, and opposed the Intercounty Connector highway when many other politicians in the county supported it. He was a longtime member of the Maryland Green Caucus and the Maryland Bicycle and Pedestrian Caucus.
“He was an incredible mentor to me and I was blessed to have my first four years in the legislature to sit with Hank on the House floor,” said Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery), who represents District 19. “He was an absolute encyclopedia of knowledge.”
Overall, Heller spent six terms in the House, retiring in 2010.
“He was a legend in the district,” Kramer said.
Heller is survived by his wife, Bonnie, two sons, and six grandchildren.
Visitation will be at Our Lady of Grace, 15661 Norbeck Blvd. in Silver Spring on Monday, from 10-11 a.m., with a mass to follow at 11 a.m. Private interment will be at Gate of Heaven Cemetery at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that memorial contributions be made in Heller’s name to Cornerstone Montgomery, a women’s homeless shelter in Rockville.