Maximizing Potential: From Sailing to Surgery Max Heeb is Better Than Good

Max HeebMax Heeb, MED '51, knows something about maximizing potential. Potential was about the only thing anybody had growing up in southeast Missouri during the depression.

Heeb tells his story from childhood to retirement in his autobiography, "Max the Knife," published in 2005 by the San Francisco-based company, Heliographica Press. Though the book is currently out of print the story is still worth telling.

To hear Heeb tell his story you realize that it never occurred to him or his friends they couldn't do whatever they set their minds to do.

Heeb and his boyhood chums made pocket change with paper routes and the normal things boys do to make money. But Heeb always had a creative streak and propensity for making the most of what he had at his disposal. With clay dug from a hillside Heeb fashioned flower pots and shaving mugs that he fired with a homemade kiln. He and his friends sold Sassafras Roots for five cents a bundle and grew a truck garden to sell produce. Years later his ability to improvise would prove to be a life-saving attribute in the operating room.

One boyhood venture Heeb mentions in the book involved making homemade "brew" which resulted in a mixture so repulsive the entire batch was poured into a hole and covered up. Nothing grew in that spot for several years and Heeb lamented that they didn't keep the formula to sell as a weed killer.

America was at war at the conclusion of high school so Heeb joined the Navy. He was 17. He learned that the war ended while on a troop ship headed for the Philippines. After completing his tour of duty he enrolled in college at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

It was while there he decided he wanted to become a doctor. He would use his G.I. bill to pay his way through two years of medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

"Years later I realized that if it hadn't been for MU school of medicine I couldn't be a doctor," Heeb said. "I could afford to go to MU. My GI bill could pay for it. Tuition was $350 and a microscope was $150 and that about covered what the GI bill paid."

Heeb completed his medical training in St. Louis. While in residency there he met his wife to be, Marianna. Together they have three children and three grandchildren today.

Graduating with the potential to practice anywhere, Heeb joined a practice in Sikeston Missouri barely 25 miles from where he grew up. Heeb's memoirs are subtitled "The Life and Times of a Country Surgeon."

Heeb said the reason he chose to come home was because he knew there was a need. "You can practice good medicine in a rural area and feel like you can make a difference.

Heeb said, "In St. Louis I would have been successful, I would have made more money but I feel like anybody can do it in St. Louis-you have to really want to be in a rural area." Heeb makes it clear that the richness of life in a rural community far outweigh any riches he might have gained practicing medicine in another place.

In the conclusion Heeb said one motivation for writing the book was to inspire young people to a career in medicine. Heeb said, "It is possible to overcome poor beginnings academically and economically. Hopefully, this experience may entice young physicians to meet the challenge of a non urban practice."

Heeb said he still stays fairly busy with surgery. In fact, he works five days a week for one week a month from his office and the hospital.

As passionate as he is about his profession, maximizing his opportunities, he is just as passionate about his hobby-sailing. With Kentucky Lake an hour and a half from their Sikeston home and a place on the Gulf Coast of Florida, the Heebs spend as much time on or near the water as possible.

Their boats carried various names over the years, names such as "One More Year," and "The Big O." Currently their boat is called "Better Than Good." With retirement in full swing and the good health to enjoy it, the Heebs could not have picked a better name to describe their life.

According to Max and Marianna, better than good could describe the way they feel about their Mizzou charitable gift annuity. They received a charitable income tax deduction in the year they created their gift annuity and receive partially tax-free payments every year for life. You'd have to agree, that's better than good.

The gift will fund the Dr. Max and Marianna Heeb Medical Scholarship for students in the MU School of Medicine. He said they made their gift "because of what MU did for me-I wanted it to be a scholarship because I know how difficult it can be for kids even today to finance a career in medicine."

Find out more about gift annuities by contacting The Office of Gift Planning and Endowments at 1-800-970-9977 or 573-882-0272 or

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