Anne Daly Heller, Publisher and Executive Editor of USAE, Passes Away

Author: Convene Editors       

Anne Daly Heller, publisher and executive editor of USAE died on Sept. 12 at her home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She was 78 and suffered from complications of pneumonia.

“Anne was a fixture in the business events industry, and a tremendous supporter of the PCMA Foundation, frequently chairing the Foundation’s fundraising committee for the annual Visionary Awards,” said PCMA President & CEO Sherrif Karamat. “Our industry will not be the same without her. Our deepest condolences to her husband and partner Ross, and their family and friends.”

Anne Daly Heller

Anne Daly Heller

The following is a tribute to her life, written by USAE staff.

For her entire professional life Anne Daly Heller was the editorial heartbeat of USAE weekly newspaper.

In 2003 when she received ASAE’s Academy of Leaders Award — their highest business partner honor — the association said of her: “She has been a dedicated provider of news and information relating to the association community for more than 20 years.

“Over the years [her] publication has entertained and enlightened many, and at times probably upset a few, but it has defined itself as a community mainstay.”

Nothing could have summed up Anne’s professional career more succinctly.

A terrific reporter with sources throughout all segments of the CVB, hospitality, and association industry, Anne was indefatigable when she got her journalistic “hooks” into a story.

Examples of her doggedness in “the chase,” (as she referred to the pursuit of a story) are numerous as current and former staff can attest. Over the phone — her preferred method of work — she tracked down reluctant newsmakers in bars, on the highway, and in other equally unlikely locations; frequently right on deadline.

The tiny acorn that became USAE fell to earth at the Place d’Armes Hotel in New Orleans in January 1982. Anne and her husband Ross E. Heller were publishing a CustomNEWS show daily for a medical society. Ross woke Anne up in the middle of the night with the words: “We’re going to start an association newspaper.” “That’s a great idea,” Anne murmured, only half-awake: “Now let’s go back to sleep. We can talk about it in the morning.”

Talk they did, hired a staff, created a mailing list and published their first issue September 14, 1982 — by pure coincidence one day after the first issue of USA Today hit the newsstands. (In later years, Anne liked to joke while both papers started on virtually the same day, it was only USA Today that lost $100 million over its first few years in business.)

From its first issue to the present day, Anne’s vision for USAE has been fulfilled. She saw it as a community newspaper in every sense of the word; a community defined not by geography but by common interest in the meetings industry; associations, hotels and destination marketing companies.

USAE is a newspaper providing hard news; fires and firings, deeds and misdeeds — even the occasional murder — as well as all the soft stuff; ribbon cuttings, weddings, births, pet pictures, obituaries plus the editorial commentator HOTS.

Wearing her reporter hat, Anne had the uncanny knack, having gotten her subject on the line, to get them to open up, on the record: On reading their quotes subsequently in USAE many must have wondered: “Why did I tell Anne Heller all that?”

At the same time, she functioned as managing editor for her reporter-editors; keeping up with — and ahead of — the news, assigning stories, reading copy, choosing photos and signing off on each issue’s lead and front page headlines.

None of her staff like it, but she was always willing to remake the front page if a breaking story warranted. In the mid-1990s when Steve Carey, CEO of what was then known as the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus (now Destinations International) ceased being employed at 5 o’clock on a Thursday night – USAE’s deadline – the story, reported in great detail, led the front page. And the paper was still on its way to the printer by 7:30 p.m.

Also in the 1990s, when she learned the foreperson of the Monica Lewinsky grand jury was a DC hotel manager who had been fired for being off work too much due to her federal service commitment and was suing her hotel bosses, she not only named names but broke the story nationally. This effort “beat” the AP, got USAE mentioned in The Washington Post and The New York Times and earned the paper a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize.

Anne was once asked about the best story she never got to publish. “It happened not long before USAE came into existence,” she said. “A prominent association executive got fired for paying a close relative’s funeral expenses with association funds. And as a parting gesture for the board’s temerity in terminating his employment, he took home as a souvenir his private washroom’s custom-decorated door!”

Heller served as “volunteer fund-raiser-in-chief” and helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars serving on the ASAE Summit Awards dinner committee since its inception in 2000 and on the dinner committees of the foundations associated with PCMA, and DI.

As an adjunct activity, she always provided without charge numerous pages of USAE advertising to promote industry events such as ASAE, MPI, PCMA, and IAEE’s annual conventions, NYSAE and Association Forum’s one-day trade shows, HSMAI’s Affordable Meetings and DI’s Destinations Showcase events.

In addition to being an ASAE Academy of Leaders honoree, Heller was honored by the Events Industry Council as a member of its Hall of Leaders in 2019 and by Destination Marketing Association International (now Destinations International) with their highest honor — The Spirit of Hospitality in 2009. She was the first and — to this day — only person to win these three highest meetings industry honors.

An inveterate reader of Washington Post classifieds and a shopper extraordinaire, her greatest shopping “coup” was the purchase of her 100+-year-old “Sears Four-Square-style” Chevy Chase, Maryland home.

How she and husband Ross came to buy the house is a classic Anne Daly Heller tale. It happened the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1976. She and Ross flipped a coin to see who would go to an estate sale around the corner and who would watch their three rambunctious sons – aged 4, 3 and 1½.

Anne won the toss – went to the sale – and returned telling her husband the contents of the sale were, to quote her precisely: “dreck. But we’re going to buy the house.”

Buy it they did — that very afternoon — and Ross has always expressed gratitude it was she who, at the estate sale, unconventionally saw the box and not the contents.

In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Heller and her husband were the nation’s preeminent purveyors of brass beds. They scoured the Mid-Atlantic states for the best examples which they then re-sold throughout the DC area. One summer Saturday in 1971 they drove 600 miles roundtrip to an advertised auction in New York’s Hudson Valley to see an extraordinary porcelain and brass one. The price was right and it ended up on top of their car and then in their bedroom where it resides to this day.

She was an inveterate traveler; until recently not missing an ASAE annual meeting nor a PCMA or DI conference. She and Ross took journalist trips to Europe, the Philippines, Japan and Hong Kong as well as to almost all 50 states.

Very proud of her Irish heritage, she was the daughter of the late James J. Daly, vice president and general manager of The Washington Post and the late Catherine Adams Daly, a banker and homemaker. From her dad she inherited her love of the newspaper business; from her mom, her sense of style. And from both, her Irish spunk and gift of gab.

Anne Heller was mother to three sons, James, Christopher and Patrick and grandmother — known as Grannie Annie — to James’ son, Brandon, and Patrick and Jennifer Heller’s daughters, Madison and Morgan. All, with her husband of 54 years, Ross E. Heller, survive her.

In her final days, Anne expressed the wish that in lieu of flowers — much as she loved giving business to Caruso’s, her favorite DC florist — donations in her name should be made to the newly established Destinations International Foundation Anne Daly Heller USAE ’30 Under 30’ Scholars Fund.

Of this fund, created by a recent endowment from her husband, she said: “I am blessed beyond words to have my name forever associated with such a worthwhile purpose. Nothing gives me more pleasure than knowing younger colleagues will have the chance to benefit, year-in and year-out, from the kinds of experiences the DMO community has given me.”

Anne, who never found it difficult to resist purchasing a beautiful piece of jewelry, a unique sculpture, or a wonderful painting, was once asked: What is the one possession she most cherished?

She responded: “The most beautiful things are not seen or touched; they are felt with the heart. So, this is an easy question to answer: It is my knowledge of Ross’s enduring love for me and mine for him.”

Funeral arrangements were incomplete but will include mass at Blessed Sacrament Church in Washington, D.C.; internment at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring, Maryland, and a celebration of her life luncheon at LaFerme Restaurant in Chevy Chase, Maryland