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Tom Heal
Tom Heal searches around a sunken ship while scuba diving off the coast of Belize in August 2000.

PROVO — Giving to the community has always been important to Tom Heal, recently awarded the Alumni Pinnacle Award from Utah Valley State College.

Since 1996, Heal has served on the Alumni Association, including two years as the president. He served three years on the UVSC Board of Trustees and was chairman of the UVSC Foundation.

"Since (Brigham Young University) turned off the tap for locals, UVSC has become the community's greatest asset," he said.

Many Utah Valley college-age people are choosing UVSC over BYU because it's become easier to get into the state college, he said.

"It has room to grow," he said. "I wanted to contribute any way I could."

Life has been an adventure for Heal. A former Green Beret during the Vietnam era, Heal was on the verge of volunteering for duty in that war-torn county. But a weekend trip home changed all that. His parents, along with his future wife, urged him not to go. He took their counsel.

Heal, a commercial Realtor, was brought up in a real estate environment — his father, Ward Heal; uncle, Ray Heal; and grandfather, Harry Heal, were Provo real estate, insurance and mortgage professionals. But Tom Heal chose not to take over the family business. He went instead to Salt Lake City, where he worked in real estate, then accepted a chance to move to Dallas, Texas, to work in the real estate arm of Kemper Insurance.

His role was to acquire and manage investment properties for the insurance company. But in 1986, Congress rewrote the tax code, scuttling many real estate tax shelters. Investment property values tumbled overnight, leaving investors with not enough collateral to cover the loans on them. Heal and his family returned to Provo.

A chance peek at a successful newsletter venture gave Heal an opportunity to follow one of his passions, scuba diving. He founded a newsletter, "Off the Wall, the Serious Diver's Guide to Unspoiled Off the Beaten Path Dive Destinations," then began traveling around the world looking for those perfect, offbeat scuba diving places.

At the time Heal took his bulk mail to Salt Lake City, so he set up a business to handle delivery of his newsletter, which he dubbed Mailworks. That was in 1989, about the time WordPerfect and a few other startup businesses also needed the service.

He built a 26,000-square-foot facility in the East Bay area, and business exploded. By then the first Gulf War started. As political unrest continued, the newsletter subscription base dropped, but his mailing business was increasing, so he sold the newsletter. He also started a print business for his mail customers.

About 10 years ago Heal decided to get back into real estate. He sold his mail business to his son and some employees and hasn't looked back. He founded Tom Heal Commercial Real Estate Inc., which is affiliated with a national company, Sperry Van Ness.

Along the way, Heal hasn't forgotten how to have fun. After returning to Provo, he took a ride on a hot air balloon and was immediately hooked.

In a hot air balloon he felt safe. Parachuting out of an airplane as a Green Beret didn't faze him.

But don't ask him to climb a ladder or stand on a roof. "I'm afraid of heights," he said.

After gaining some experience and a certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, Heal bought a hot air balloon and began entering races. His wife, four daughters and his son became his crew. They raced in the Great Reno Balloon Race. They won a new sports car in the Thunderbird Classic in Phoenix.

As his "crew" grew up and left home, Heal turned to another activity — riding motorcycles. He's had three, sold them all, but is now eyeing another one.

"I've never been afraid to do something new," he said.

E-mail: [email protected]