For more than 30 years, Vicki Simons Heyman, BA’79, MBA’80, and Bruce Heyman, BA’79, MBA’80, built a life in Chicago. They raised three children. They made deep friendships. They had successful careers.
But still they wanted more.
“You reach a point in your life,” Bruce explains, “when you’ve done well—but now can you go do good?”
So when President Barack Obama asked Bruce to serve as U.S. ambassador to Canada, Bruce and Vicki were ready for the challenge. In March 2014, Bruce was officially sworn in as the 30th U.S. ambassador to Canada, and by April 1 the couple arrived in Ottawa to start their new life in diplomacy.
Our northern neighbor is the United States’ largest goods trading partner, with $632 billion in total goods trade in 2013.
“Bruce and I are really tackling this job as a team,” says Vicki. “We’ve been traveling the country like road warriors. Top to bottom, right to left.”
For Bruce, one of the most memorable moments of their journey so far occurred in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at a ceremony honoring nearly 200 American soldiers who died while in prison on nearby Melville Island during the War of 1812.
“We head over, and there’s the admiral from the Canadian fleet and the lieutenant governor, who is the representative of the queen,” Bruce remembers. “There’s media, there are soldiers, there’s a band playing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ They do a helicopter flyover. They’re shooting cannons off in the distance. Literally, my eyes were welling up as I saw this all take place in front of me.
“If someone had told these soldiers, ‘Hey, by the way, 200 years in the future we’ll still be honoring your lives and your service to the country,’ who would have thought it? The ceremony was a demonstrative action of care, concern and respect for the relationship we share together. That’s just one example, more symbolic in some respects, of interactions I’ve had across the country.”
In many ways Bruce and Vicki’s new diplomatic role in Canada is not that new to them. The couple, who met at Vanderbilt, have given of their time for years as ambassadors for the university. Together they helped champion their alma mater by chairing fundraising efforts for their 25th Reunion and serving on the Parents Leadership Committee. Vicki served on the Vanderbilt Alumni Association Board of Directors. Bruce served on the Owen Graduate School of Management’s Board of Visitors and was president of the school’s alumni board.
Two of their children also graduated from Vanderbilt. To honor their experience, the family established a need-based scholarship as part of Opportunity Vanderbilt, the university’s initiative to replace all need-based undergraduate student loans with scholarship and grant assistance.
“Vanderbilt means the world to us,” says Vicki. “That’s where Bruce and I began. And to be able to share that with your children … the connection, the pride, the familial transfer of knowledge and association brings something that’s really a big part of our family and a big part of who we are.”