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Selfless supporter a mate to many and lauded by all

WHEN Bruce Heymanson first called me two years ago, I wasn't at first sure who he was. After introducing himself as chairman of Essendon's Dick Reynolds Club, a coterie group that raises money for the club's past players, he said he wanted to hold a function to launch Nine Lives, the book I had helped Adam Ramanauskas write.

He was interested in my thoughts on who should be there, who should speak, how it should run and despite my resistance he wanted to be sure I got my share of attention too. It was one of the best days I've had and I still remember thinking: he doesn't even know me, why is he being so nice?

I wasn't alone. ''Heymo'' died last week, after an awful illness that he played down every single time I heard from him: I will miss his occasional text messages and his feedback, always encouraging, on stories I had written. He was Essendon's No. 1 ticket-holder, a former board member, a fund-raiser, a coterie group member and above anything else, a supporter.

Many weekends, he would sit with James Hird and club doctor Bruce Reid late into the night, helping the coach pick the next week's side over a scotch and Diet Coke. He was, as Hird explained it, the players' protector. He was a life member of the past players despite never having played a single match and that he had looked out for so many of them was clear at his memorial service on Friday.

They covered generations: Terry Daniher; Simon Madden; Paul Salmon; Chris Heffernan; Blake Caracella; Scott Lucas; Sean Wellman; Mark Mercuri; Matthew Lloyd. The current list included Stewart Crameri and Kyle Hardingham, whose trips to see Heymanson in hospital, said Hird, had been deeply appreciated by him.

Mark Harvey and Gary O'Donnell, coaching in Brisbane, had made a six-hour trip to be there. Ramanauskas, who with Dean Solomon and Mark McVeigh was the reason Heymanson was invited on the team's footy trips as ''designated chaperone'', described how he was ''just everywhere at the club''.

His kindness stretched beyond the players, though, with president David Evans interrupting an overseas holiday to attend the service. Richmond's pro scout Blair Hartley, who started at Essendon, came along. So did Travis Auld, the Gold Coast CEO and John Quinn, the Giants' conditioning coach. Matthew Knights was there. Kevin Sheedy recalled the free coaching advice Heymo had given him, and so did Hird. ''Michael Hurley, you're going to be a forward,'' he said. ''I'm going to win this one, OK Heymo?''

Heymanson was plenty of other things: a husband, a father, a grandfather. A businessman who started his car radio company with $500 at the age of 22. An instant friend of so many, including a Balinese barman whose family he supported without telling anyone. Every club would have a Heymo: someone who would do anything for the club, for years, with no agenda at all and no expectation of any fame or acknowledgement. ''Our club,'' said Hird, ''will not be the same without Heymo.''