Memories of Max Heath

Sep 1, 2021

Jeannine & Roy Eaton with Ruth Ann & Max Heath at the Eaton’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2008.

NNA President 1996-1997

It was a sweltering mid-summer day in Washington when I met Max Heath for the first time in the mid-eighties. Of course, it was about a postal matter.

There was an important hearing on Capitol Hill about the future of the postal service. The chair of the House committee on postal matters was a congressman from Houston, and the National Newspaper Association thought it would be a good idea to have the president of the Texas Press Association testify before the committee.

NNA general counsel at the time, Bob Brinkman, had prepared my testimony that covered multiple pages in a briefing book. Max went with Bob and me to the hearing and when we got there, we learned that my testimony had been cut from 15 minutes to five. I had always considered myself a good editor, but I was not in the same league as Max, who edited my testimony quickly with the knowledge of what was most important for community newspapers.

The committee chairman was from Houston and wouldn’t know a community newspaper if he saw one, but he was polite, and it was all over in a half hour.
From that time forward for more than 30 years, Max and Ruth Ann Heath were our best friends and traveling companions. Max was passionate about community newspapers and would spend hours on the telephone or at state conventions helping even the smallest papers with their postal problems.

Former NNA President Jack Fishman of Tennessee characterized Max as a “warrior” for community newspapers on postal issues. Larry Jackson, past president of the Texas Press Association, said that Max could help papers through arcane postal regulations.

During my year as NNA president, there was hardly a state convention where Max was not the keynote speaker. But his work was never complete after the speech, when he would sit with publishers hour after hour, helping them with their postal problems.

Max was so passionate about postal issues that it sometimes made him sick. I first heard the term “anxiety attack” at a NNA Government Affairs Conference when Max was taken to the hospital in the middle of the night because of his unending concern with newspapers and the postal service. Thankfully, he was back at the hotel the next day.

But if you think Max was all work and no play — you would be wrong. He and I shared a love for country music, slipping out of the NNA convention in Franklin, Tennessee, to go to the Grand Ole’ Opry one Saturday night. Max and Ruth Ann came from Kentucky to our 50th wedding anniversary in Texas. I know it was for our celebration, but the icing on the cake for Max was the entertainment by the country-western band “Asleep at the Wheel.”

Our travels together took us to many states all across America. But one overseas trip representing NNA was both strange and fun. The government of Taiwan had developed a relationship with NNA and one year invited a group of NNA members to the inauguration of their new president. Max and Ruth Ann, Jeannine and I, and several other NNA members flew as guests of the government to the big event.

We were told to bring formal wear for a reception at the presidential palace, so we donned our tuxedos and formal gowns and headed for the palace. It turned out to be an informal garden party, and many of the guests mistook us as waiters. Two old country boys from Kentucky and Texas laughed about it for years.

Max was passionate about the National Newspaper Association. He was the best at recruiting new members. He would often call me about some Texas publisher that he had helped and discovered he was not an NNA member and tell me to call the publisher and tell him to “get on board” with NNA.

Max was a hero to state press association managers who often got tough postal questions they could not answer. He had his favorite managers but would help any of them, whether a favorite or not. He always knew whether the manager supported NNA or not.

One trip through New England we spent the night in Woodstock, Vermont. And we couldn’t leave the next morning without stopping at the local newspaper to make sure they were NNA members. If they weren’t, Max did his best to sign them up.

NNA Past President Mike Parta of Minnesota, who was on that trip with Max and Ruth Ann, Jack and Nancy Fishman and Jeannine and me, summed it up perfectly when he said that Max was “one of a kind” that will always be remembered for his generous help to community newspapers all over America.
I know that is true, but I will remember him as a great personal friend for more than three decades. God speed, my friend; I miss you already.

Roy Eaton was NNA president from 1996 to 1997. Email him at