Roger Healey has sidled up to the Pearly Gates, opened his notebook and is reading jokes to Saint Peter! He was born April 2nd, 1952, “A day late and fooled them!” to Leonard and Rosemary Healey in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His heart quietly beat its last on July 8th, 2023.
He was a gentle man, but often funny, with his quips made in low tones to those nearby, which is probably why in school his classmates would be the ones to get in trouble for laughing, not he who had made the joke. He did not like to speak in front of people whom he knew, let alone strangers. That all changed after his brain injury. When standing in a tedious line of people impatiently waiting, he could have them all laughing with just a few quick remarks!
He was very smart, imaginative, creative and liked to be physically active outdoors. He learned construction skills from his carpenter father. He lettered in baseball and football and was a member of the National Honor Society, graduating from Otsego High School in Otsego, Michigan in 1970.
He graduated from Alma College in 1974 with a Bachelor of Arts in Business. While in college he was an accomplished diver on the swim team.
During the summers between college years, he began working in Yellowstone National Park for Hamilton Stores, the first summer at the warehouse in West Yellowstone, next as a painter and third at Bridge Bay Marina. He became a hiker, fisherman and avid explorer of Yellowstone and Montana.
After graduation from college, he got a winter job at Bridger Bowl loading skiers into chairs, “a Lifty.” He enjoyed being outside in the cold Montana winters and went skiing often, becoming one of the many to climb the ridge and ski down the chutes. One summer he helped build the new lift to Pierre’s Knob. Next he worked at Gallatin Homes. His last job was in management training with K-Mart, briefly in Helena and lastly in Pocatello, Idaho. In 1980, he came down with encephalitis which resulted in an extensive brain injury.
After rehabilitation in both Kalamazoo, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois, his parents realized he would need to live with them indefinitely. They moved to Bozeman, Montana where Roger helped his father build two houses over the next decade. He attempted employment rehabilitation at Helena Industries for several months, worked with a job coach through Reach Inc. and did occupational therapy at the Bozeman Care Center which connected him with the ladies who would create a live-in facility for the brain injured, Liberty Place. But due to his extreme memory loss, he was unable to be employed. He and his parents initiated meetings of the Brain Injury Support Group, participated in skiing at Bridger Bowl, swimming at Bozeman Hot Springs, and playing golf at Riverside Country Club. Long walks in the countryside with his dad were also routine. They also traveled to England and a variety of places together. The threesome could be seen in Belgrade at every sporting event of his nieces and nephew.
Roger’s severe brain injury became a subject of interest to the brain research community. Through participation in multiple research studies, he contributed much data to the University of Iowa regarding brain function. Several medical papers have been written about his case. He and his parents were interviewed for an episode of 60 Minutes II, named “State of Mind with Roger Healey.” Roger continued to participate in brain research for the rest of his life and his brain is now donated to the scientific community for continuing research.
2004 was the opening of the brain injury facility Liberty Place in Whitehall, Montana. Roger became one of the first residents. At Liberty Place, Roger stayed busy with other residents in a variety of activities including gardening, memory journaling, life training, music therapy, volunteering in the area and attending local events. He always enjoyed visits from family, especially taking long drives with his sister and playing pool with his brother-in-law.
Recently Roger was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. His decline came rapidly. Fortunately, several family members and friends were able to visit with him during his last weeks and days. He remained kind and communicative until his final breath.
The staff of Liberty Place took tremendously considerate and loving care of Roger along with Senior Solutions Hospice in his final days. Our family extends the deepest gratitude to both organizations. We are also grateful to Dahl Funeral & Cremation Service for handling his final arrangements.
Roger is survived by his sister Becky Sheehan and brother-in-law Carl Sheehan, their children Colleen (Randy) Okon, Trevor (Katie Rixon) Sheehan, Emily (Gilbert Gavigan) Sheehan, grand nieces, grandnephew and many cousins. He was preceded in death by his parents Leonard and Rosemary Healey.
There will be a Celebration of the extraordinary life of Roger Healey on August 13th from Noon to 3PM at Story Mill Park, LaLani Pavilion, 698 Bridger Drive in Bozeman. Donations may be made to Libertyplace.org. Memories and condolences may be shared with the family at www.dahlcares.com.