Michael Heatherly Reminds Us That It’s a Wonderful Life
Yesterday, December 28, Skyline Driver Manager Michael Heatherly asked if I happened to feel the earth shake that morning at 7:22 am. Puzzled, I admitted that I had not. He smiled and said, ‘That’s what time I was born’. In celebration of Mr. Heatherly’s birthday, we’d like to share the story of this former professional truck driver with you.
Michael was born and raised in Knoxville, TN. He served in the Marine Corps after high school and when he was discharged, he considered pursuing law enforcement, but decided to work for his father.
“My dad was a wealthy man with business endeavors in several areas, one being excavation. One day, he threw me a set of keys. I had never driven truck and back then, you didn’t need a CDL. I got in the dump truck started driving.”
Although it wasn’t planned, Michael soon found himself driving over the road. The father of a friend owned a trucking company. His friend called him saying they needed drivers and asking Mike if he’d be interested.
“I told him that I had never driven a tractor trailer and my friend says, ‘Dad will show you’. I showed up and what he showed me were the keys and said, ‘This load that needs to be in Florida by 6am tomorrow morning’.”
Mike spent the next 20 years driving over the road and then transitioned into dispatch. His father became ill, so he left the trucking industry to help his dad with one of his businesses. When he was ready to return, Mike joined Skyline’s fleet and drove for about a year and a half before moving back into dispatching.
Michael misses driving from time to time, but appreciates being back with his family, especially considering the events of the last decade. In a series of unbelievable tragedies, Michael endured a brain aneurysm, multiple heart attacks, his wife’s diagnosis of cancer, and the loss of four family members in a car accident.
“You want to know if I believe in the man upstairs? The answer is yes, both me and my wife do, and that’s what has pulled us through.”
His wife’s diagnosis hit, as these things often do, completely out of the blue.
“She went in for a hernia operation. The doctors emerged 15 minutes later to tell me that it’s not a hernia, but late stage IV Follicular lymphoma cancer and that she has maybe three months to live.”
Brenda, Michael’s wife of 34 years, survived multiple rounds of chemotherapy and more than 30 treatments of radiation.
“It ate her up but she’s doing well and it’s been almost seven years since the diagnosis.”
Although his wife survived, Michael experienced a great family loss just a few years later. His mother, grandmother, great grandmother and two aunts were all killed in a terrible car accident.
“I lost four generations in a single accident. They were leaving the funeral home from another aunt’s funeral when they were hit by a truck in an intersection.”
Despite the setbacks, loss, tragedy and sicknesses, Michael maintains a positive attitude and always comes to work with a smile on his face.
“You’ve got to go on, you can’t just quit. I’ve been to that point, I’ve stood at the edge and looked down, but giving up? It’s not worth it. You keep on going, that’s all you can do.”
Michael says that even though he’s been through his share of tragedy, he couldn’t have asked for a better life.
“I have the best wife, some of the best children – two daughters and a 10-year-old grandson – and my brother and I couldn’t be any closer. I don’t think I could have a better family and I’ve had a good, happy life.”
In addition to the familial support and his faith, Michael also credits the support he received from Skyline president Jeff Reed for helping him get through some of these trying events.
“I cannot say enough about Jeff. Most companies would have shoved me out the door a long time ago but he knows what I’ve been through with my health and my wife. The only thing Jeff has ever said is, “Is there anything we can do?’.”
Because Mike has worked both as a driver and in operations, he has a unique perspective that helps him in his role as a driver manager.
“The fact that I have been there helps me relate to my drivers. I know what the driver is thinking, sitting in that seat all alone. I sympathize and understand that sometimes they’re tired and need empathy.”
Michael enjoyed his time in the driver’s seat because of the freedom and the opportunity to see the country. He has seen every state in the continental U.S. and a lot of Canada. While trucking allowed him to provide a good life for his family, Michael said it caused him to miss a lot too, as any professional driver knows all too well.
“I missed my girls growing up, missed birthday’s, yes it can be a strain on the family. It takes a very strong, good woman to stick with you if you’re going to be a truck driver. But, together, we raised a good family and I’m glad I was able to provide well for them.”
These days, Michael enjoys spending time with his grandson, who he calls his best friend. A big gun collector and advocate, Mike also enjoys sport shooting at the range, as well as fishing with his grandson. He used to enjoy hiking and at one time, says he had hiked every registered trail in the Smoky Mountains except the Appalachian Trail.
I asked Michael what his motivation is for staying positive and doing his best in life. He credits being true to his inner self and learning to live life to its fullest.
“I don’t let stuff bother me. You only live once and I’ve learned to live it to the fullest. If you get the chance to dance or sit it out, you dance.”