By Karen Berkowitz
November 16, 2000
Evanston Police Department members were shocked and grief-stricken this week over the loss of Skokie resident Lt. Robert Heytow, who suffered a heart attack Friday afternoon while joking with colleagues outside police headquarters.
Age 53 and a 31-year veteran of the Evanston police force, Lt. Heytow collapsed at about 2:30
Lt. Heytow p.m. behind the police station at 1454 Elmwood Ave. Lt. Heytow and a building custodian had gone outside and moved a garbage receptacle as part of a basement cleanup project.
“He was kibitzing with one of the dispatchers who was having a cigarette and he basically collapsed,” said Cmdr. Charles Wernick, head of investigative and support services.
“We’re absolutely shocked,” Wernick said. “He was a wonderful, wonderful man — a caring and kind individual with a wonderful sense of humor, who always went out of his way to help people.”
Police colleagues from Evanston, Skokie and other communities — including Bloomington, Barrington, LaGrange and Oak Brook — packed the Piser Chapel funeral home in Skokie Tuesday to pay their respects to a man they loved and admired.
After the service, a procession including an array of police cars and motorcycles traveled from Church Street and Gross Point Road to the Evanston police station, where a brief memorial service was held. The procession headed back to Skokie and Memorial Park Cemetery, where he was intered.
After serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, Lt. Heytow joined the Evanston Police Department in 1969 at the urging of his twin brother, Dick, an Evanston patrol officer at the time. While brother Dick eventually would leave the department after obtaining his law degree, Robert Heytow devoted himself to law enforcement.
Cmdr. Dennis Nilsson said Lt. Heytow provided valuable leadership to the department through the personal example of dedication that he set for his colleagues.
Loved police work
“His dedication, his commitment and his love of policing were apparent in everything he did,” Nilsson said. “He wouldn’t have been around 31 years if he didn’t love it.
“As his supervisor, if you gave him something to do, it was done, it was done completely and it was done right.”
After working in patrol, Lt. Heytow assumed a foot-patrol assignment in the mid 1980s at a time when many Evanston police officers were skeptical about community policing. He pounded the pavement in an area around Chicago Avenue, from Main Street south to Howard Street.
“This was a natural for him in law enforcement,” Nilsson said. “He was a real people person and he touched many lives in those beats.”
While some contended that community policing was more public relations than law enforcement — giving people a perception of safety while having no impact on crime — Lt. Heytow defended the problem-solving approach during a 1992 interview with Pioneer Press. He voiced a belief that perception and reality were interdependent.
“If you perceive that it’s no longer safe to use the park or walk down the street at night, you stop doing those things,” Lt. Heytow had said in the interview. “Pretty soon, the undesirable elements take over and the area isn’t safe any longer. When you begin to see your neighborhood in a more favorable light, it becomes a much safer place. Perception is the key to real change.”
Lt. Heytow was promoted to sergeant in the late 1980s and elevated to the rank of lieutenant in 1996. Due in part to his versatility and understanding of technology, he would become a valuable “jack of all trades” within the administration.
Most recently, he oversaw the records and property bureaus and the 911 communications center.
Lt. Heytow served for 16 years on the Evanston Police Pension Board and was a member of a state police pension association founded by his colleague, Sgt. Timothy Schoolmaster.
While serving on the Pension Board, Lt. Heytow completed the necessary course work to become a certified financial planner. More recently, he obtained a degree in public administration from Lewis University.
Schoolmaster said he always was amazed by Heytow’s breadth of interests.
A motorcycle enthusiast, Lt. Heytow was a member of the Illinois chapter of the Blue Knights, a nationwide motorcycle club for police officers.
He held a private pilot’s license and once served as a flight instructor. Heytow also was a ham radio operator.
“I always kidded him that if he decided he wanted to be a brain surgeon, two years later he would be one,” Schoolmaster said.
“He was not an in-your-face kind of guy, but he had wisdom,” Schoolmaster said. “He was a mentor to me, and a good friend.”
Schoolmaster, who is completing a 10-week course at Northwestern University, was riding a bicycle in Glencoe Friday afternoon when he received a page and rushed to Evanston Hospital, where a number of colleagues had gathered.
Lt. Heytow is survived by his wife, Karen, daughter Amy Katherine and his mother, Sally.
The family has asked that memorial contributions be made to the donor’s charity of choice.
Copyright © 2000 Pioneer Press Newspapers & the Chicago Sun-Times Co.