Friends of billionaire businessman and longtime St. Charles resident Michael Heisley said Sunday that no matter how successful he became, he never abandoned those he'd met along the way.
"He was a devoted family man and loyal to all his friends from the beginning," said Ellen Smith, a St. Charles resident who, along with her husband, Fred, was a close friend of Heisley's. "He always cared deeply about the local community."
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Heisley died Saturday night at the age of 77. Published reports said he died of complications from a massive stroke he suffered nearly 15 months ago.
Heisley was chairman emeritus and co-founder of The Heico Companies, LLC, a Chicago-based holding company. He also was the former owner of the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team. He bought the NBA team in April 2000 when it was located in Vancouver and moved it to Memphis. The team held a moment of silence for Heisley before their playoff game Saturday night against Oklahoma City.
Heisley's business career took him all over the country, but for much of the last 35 years, he was based in the suburbs of Chicago.
A passionate supporter of education, Heisley served as a school board member in St. Charles Unit District 303.
St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina was the president of the local teacher's union when Heisley was on the board.
"He was somewhat low-key, but in my mind he was a giant," Rogina said. "He was a great individual, a great member of the community."
Heisley also was active in St. Patrick Catholic Parish in St. Charles. He was instrumental in the parish's effort to get a new elementary school built, Ellen Smith said.
Fred Smith said Heisley always tried to help people less fortunate than he, but without drawing much attention to it.
"He preferred to keep a low profile in general, but he truly believed in helping other people," Fred Smith said.
Heisley was instrumental in getting the Grizzlies active in the community, forming the Memphis Grizzlies Charitable Foundation to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Among its projects, the foundation helped build the Memphis Grizzlies House, a temporary on-campus residence for families with children being treated at the hospital.
Heisley, who had considered selling the team for several years, finally sold it to current owner Robert Pera, founder and chief administrative officer of Ubiquiti Networks. The deal, completed in October 2012, was worth an estimated $377 million.
Heisley and his wife had five children and 12 grandchildren, Ellen Smith said.
"He was such a great man, bigger than life," she said.
• Daily Herald staff writer James Fuller and wire services contributed to this article.