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Joe Heap, longtime New London P&Z chairman, dies

New London — Joseph Heap II has a porch at his home on School Street that for many years was a popular Sunday gathering place, the kind of spot people gravitated toward to sip coffee and talk about politics and family or solve the city's problems.

Friends and loved ones said those Sunday discussions will be sorely missed. Heap, a former longtime member and chairman of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, died over the weekend from health issues associated with COVID-19. He was just shy of reaching his 74th birthday.

Heap is fondly remembered as a civic-minded man who was nearly as serious about food as he was about zoning issues. He loved the city he called home.

“His whole heart was New London … and he had big heart,” said longtime friend Michael Buscetto Jr. Buscetto remembers those Sundays at the Heap residence and said people arrived “no invitation needed” to shoot the breeze with Heap and his wife, Marjorie.

“And for those people that were passing by, he’d yell out ‘hey, what are you doing? Get over here,” Buscetto said.

People would usually stop.

Buscetto called Heap a “salt of the earth” sort of man who had a lot of friends, knew a lot of people and loved New London. He also had no qualms about letting someone know when they were wrong.

“He was honest and upfront and you always knew where you stood with Joe,” agreed longtime friend Mark Christiansen, who served with Heap on the Planning and Zoning Commission for many years and took over as chairman in 2003 when Heap retired.

“He was one of my mentors. He had a large extended family and I counted myself lucky to become part of that family,” Christiansen said.

Heap served as the chairman of the Republican Town Committee in the 1970s, was a member of two Charter Revision Commissions, including the one that created the Planning and Zoning Commission. He joined the Planning and Zoning Commission in 1981 and took over as chairman when Harold Arkava retired in 1994.

“He always did what was right for the city,” Christiansen said of his time on the commission.

Christiansen said he could always count on Heap and Arkava as a good sound boards for any questions he might have when he took over as chairman. Arkava died in February.

Before his retirement in 2003, Heap talked to The Day about his service on the Planning and Zoning Commission: “It’s the most demanding of all the commissions we have in town. We deal with issues that are close to the hearts of many people — their neighborhoods, what’s happening next door.”

Heap was also was a former deputy state sheriff and later worked as a state marshal.

Longtime friend and fellow state marshal Tom Burke said the two served on the State Marshal Advisory Board in Hartford and testified before various legislative committee. Heap was still active up until the time he got sick earlier this year.

“He was a great marshal. It’s going to be a great loss,” Burke said. “He was very well liked, gregarious … He had a good sense of humor and if you needed advice on restaurants, he was the guy to go to."

Heap for many years had presided over New London’s annual real estate tax auctions.

Mayor Michael Passero called Heap not only good at his job but someone who was empathetic and humane. He also had nearly unmatched institutional knowledge of the city and was a go-to person when Passero had a question.

“He was always generous with his time, and one thing about Joe, you get him on the phone for a two-minute question and you’d be on the phone for 45 minutes. He was entertaining, and he was a storyteller,” Passero said.

Heap is survived by wife, Marjorie, two sons, Shannon and Patrick, and several grandchildren.

Marjorie Heap said the two were married for 54 years and she remembers the two joined the Republican Town Committee together when they were 21.

She said her husband was always someone willing to hand out advice and acknowledged his love for going out to eat.

“We did a lot of that until COVID,” she said. “He always had comments about whatever they served. If it didn’t meet his standards the waiter and/or the cook would know about it.”

Sometimes Heap would write online reviews but held back any criticism, focusing on those restaurants he enjoyed.

Longtime Day reporter Joe Wojtas recalled covering a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting in the early 1990s that was chaired by Arkava. Appearing before the commission that evening was an out-of-town man seeking to turn a former Photomat kiosk in the New London Shopping Center into a hot dog hut.

Arkava told the man that, as he did with all applications involving food, he would turn the questioning over to the commission's resident expert — Heap.

While the man was prepared to answer questions about traffic patterns, lighting and parking, Heap began asking him if the hot dogs would be grilled or steamed, if buns would be toasted and what kind of relishes and other condiments would be available. Heap also told him he enjoyed several dogs at a time.

The man, who was not familiar with the commission's antics and later said he was taken aback by the questions, answered them in a serious tone, while the group of residents who attended the commisson's meeting laughed from the gallery.               

Marjorie Heap said she thought her husband’s desire to serve the city was generational since his father and grandfather had done the same. The couple’s son, Shannon, who works as a certified public accountant in New London, has also served on several boards and commissions.

All agreed Heap would be sorely missed.

“A good man is gone, and the city is lesser for it,” Christiansen said.

g.smith@theday.com

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