Bringing Up Patty

I won’t try to fool you. It’s a good thing I spent 51 years in The Plain Dealer newsroom, because a lot of reporting went into this piece. I asked a lot of questions.

When you have five children, it is difficult if not impossible to single out specific memories of just one child. And if you were a pro football writer and away from home for much of the time between July and January for 20 years ... well, you’re lucky to remember anything about any of them.

But once I started asking questions — mostly of Patty’s siblings — the memories came back quickly. My daughter Patty certainly has gone on to do great things with her talent, and you can be sure I'm very proud of her. Not that I'm taking any credit. Perhaps the best thing I did — besides put food on the table, pay tuition and make her go to church on Sunday — was to stay out of her way.

I always wanted her to work at Heinen's, because I had heard they offered a good benefits package.

But I honestly believe that everyone in our family played some part in shaping who Patty is today, simply because we shared that family bond, the one so special for all families. It may sound corny, but it is that sticking together through the tough times as well as the good that has been so important.

The Heaton Family Today

Chuck Heaton worked as a sportswriter for The Plain Dealer for 51 years and now has a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton as a recipient of the The Dick McCann Memorial Award given to sportswriters with exceptional careers. The emphasis in his Bay Village home, however, was on faith and family above all else, followed by a love of reading, writing and the arts — themes that are very clearly reflected in the lives of his five adult children.

Sharon Heaton, the oldest sibling, is a Dominican nun and second-grade teacher at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Virginia. Alice Cartwright, the second oldest, lives in Nashville and is married with three grown children, one of whom has ambitions to be an actress. Michael, the only boy, is the "Minister of Culture" columnist for The PD and a writer for the paper's Sunday Magazine. He's married and has three young daughters. Patty is the second youngest, followed by Franny, who works in the activities department at Harborside Healthcare in Westlake.

When asked how her family developed such a strong love of music and the theater, Alice replies that, "I really do have to say Art Modell had something to do with it." Modell typically handed out gifts to area sports- writers and Alice remembers that he tried to give the family a TV, but that her dad wouldn't accept such a large gift. So Modell, being a New Yorker, presented the family with a stack of Broadway records.

The latest addition to the family is Cece Heaton, who married Chuck 26 years ago after his first wife, Pat, died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm. "It's a wonderful family," Cece says.

My first wife, Pat, provided a rock-solid foundation of religious faith that served as an inspiration to all of us. I know that faith lives in and drives Patty. It is that faith in God, not her fame or celebrity, of which I'm most proud.

But I also remember Patty as a child, always busy putting on plays in the garage with her little girlfriends in the Bay Village neighborhood. They would all end up running home crying because Patty's brother Mike and his friends spied on them and teased them.

Her younger sister Franny was always Patty's trial audience and partner. Fran was a good sport, willing and able when Patty needed someone to complete her sister act or if she needed a straight man. The two shared a bedroom and Fran still remembers that Patty wouldn't let her sleep until she memorized all the words to the song "There Is a Little Man in the Deep Dark Wood" so they could perform it together at an upcoming family gathering.

There is a story in our family that Patty volunteered to sing Barbra Streisand songs for her first-grade class. But I don't think Patty's interest in or enjoyment of music would have been quite so strong if it were not for her oldest sister Sharon bringing records home to play.

Sharon, now a Dominican nun and second-grade teacher in Hampton, Va., brought popular music into our house. It was Sharon who first loved Barbra Streisand, the Beatles and Detroit soul groups such as The Supremes and The Temptations.

Patty's second-oldest sister, Alice, was our family's first actress. Alice, five years older than Patty, became involved in community theater while in high school. She owned Broadway show records such as "West Side Story" and "Oliver!" that played over and over again downstairs while I was trying to get a little sleep after some game or another. Alice won an acting competition and attended acting classes in New York on a Carnegie Mellon scholarship the summer after her junior year at Bay High.

Alice's interest and activity in theater and its influence on the Heaton family were never more evident than the time we all, at her request, attended a one-woman show of theater acting by a Swedish actress named Viveca Lindfors at some East Side high-school auditorium. I don't think we ever would have gone in for such a bohemian experience except that Lindfors starred in the movie "King of Kings."

The kids tell me that was an eventful experience. I vaguely remember driving back and forth. During the performance I may have been thinking about the next day's column. Or sleeping. I was pretty wound up with deadlines back then. It was the mid to late '60s, and with five kids I was working at the PD and free-lance writing at home for Sports Illustrated and a variety of national pro football publications.

My first wife, Pat, died suddenly in 1971 of a brain aneurysm. That was a heartbreaking, soul-searching ordeal for all of us. All of my children showed courage and character. The Lord was present. But the family took a hard blow.

Four years later, I met and married my wife and love of 26 years, Cece Evers. She faced the tough task of moving not only into our house but also, more importantly, into our family. She was there for the two younger girls so often when I couldn't be. Mike was off to college by then at Kent State, and Sharon and Alice had moved on with their lives.

Patty graduated from Bay High School, and then went on to Ohio State, where she majored in journalism for three years before changing to drama her senior year. It seemed at the time like a wild leap into an unstable career.

By then, Mike had moved to New York City to pursue his writing. What was funny was that the two of them were not especially close in high school or college. Patty always had good grades and was involved in school activities. Mike did enough to get by in school, but his activities were strictly extracurricular. He and Patty were polar opposites. She was the straight arrow; he was the wiseguy, the mischief-maker.

During her senior year at OSU, Patty visited her brother Mike in New York and her life was changed. He showed her the town, and I guess she liked it because she moved there right after graduating. I don't know if it was the bright lights of Broadway, but there was no keeping her in Bay Village. And she and Mike have been like pals and partners ever since.

Two Emmy Awards later, it's easy to say I knew she had it in her or I recognized her talent early on. To be honest, I still wish she had that Heinen's job security and dental plan. (Once a child of the Great Depression, always a child of the Depression, I guess.)

But I was there to see her rise to the top of show business. It began at a St. Edward's High School production of "Fiddler on the Roof." I saw her in a three-hour Huntington Playhouse production of "Showboat" more than once, and enjoyed a Pabst Blue Ribbon commercial that made her quite a bit of dough.

She produced and acted in a play in New York called "The Johnstown Vindicator." It was about a newspaper, but I must admit I didn't really get it. And she eventually played a chorus role in a Broadway gospel musical called "Arms Too Short To Box with God."

When she moved to Los Angeles and landed a part on the TV series "thirtysomething," things really got moving. That was followed by a part in "Beethoven," the dog movie with Charles Grodin, then a television comedy show with Linda Lavin called "Room for Two," and a few other things before "Everybody Loves Raymond" rolled around.

I get a kick out of the fact that in "Raymond" she plays a woman married to a sportswriter just like her mom and Cece. I even got written into one episode in which my name was mentioned during a sportswriting awards ceremony that Ray was attending.

"Everybody Loves Raymond" is a big hit and no one is happier about Patty's success than the Heaton family. And no one in the Heaton family is prouder than Patty's old man. So maybe she doesn't need that job or the benefits Heinen's offers after all. I stand corrected.

I wouldn't mind hearing her do one of their funny radio commercials, though.

Hey, you can't blame a proud Depression-era dad for caring.

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