Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Born in Gisborne on 18 May, 1898, Tom Heeney was the ninth child of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Heeney, sturdy Irish parents, who settled in Poverty Bay in the early 1880's. After attending St. Mary's School, and, later, the public school at Te Hapara, he went to work for Ted Martin, plumber and drainlayer. Fond of open-air life, most of his leisure was spent on the playing fields, on the rivers or on the beaches.
Heeney was prominent in connection with two efforts at life-saving. On 27 January, 1918, when three young women—Misses Elizabeth Galloway and Elsie and Vera Rhodes—were swept out beyond the breakers off Waikanae Beach, he and some others went to their rescue. Heeney brought Miss Galloway ashore, but it was found that she was beyond further human aid. By this time a life-line had been obtained and, donning the jacket, Heeney went out again and assisted in getting the other young women back on to the beach. Heeney and Eric D. Robinson were each awarded a bronze medal by the Royal Humane Society, and Lillian Whitely, Thomas Ingham and Robert Ellery were presented with certificates. Whilst Heeney and others were sunning themselves on Waikanae Beach on 6 February, 1924, a little girl drew their attention to the fact that a youth, Arthur Neill, was in difficulties beyond the breakers. Heeney rushed out with a life-line, but could not find any trace of the unfortunate lad. Upon his return to the shore he was almost exhausted, having been greatly hampered by seaweed and kelp.
Afer his unsuccessful bid for the world h.w. title Heeney became an American citizen. In September, 1928, he and his American bride were accorded an open-air civic reception at Gisborne in the presence of some thousands of the residents. Heeney served in the United States Navy in the Pacific during World War No. 2.