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Former Cavalier Daily managing editor and cartoonist, local public defender passes away

Mariflo Stephens, renowned writer and wife of Frederick Heblich, passed away one day later

Fred and Mariflo were married for 38 years.
Fred and Mariflo were married for 38 years.

Frederick Theodore Heblich Jr., former managing editor and cartoonist for The Cavalier Daily, has passed away, leaving behind a profound legacy that survives in both the pages of the newspaper and in the Charlottesville justice system. 

Heblich lost his battle with leukemia Tuesday, Nov. 2 at the age of 72. His wife, Mariflo Sanders Stephens Heblich, an alumna of the University, passed away the next day from complications due to liver disease. 

Fred graduated from the College in 1971 and the School of Law in 1982 before becoming a law professor, kickstarting a 40-year career in law that most recently included serving as the federal public defender for the Western District of Virginia. Mariflo received a masters in creative writing from the University and won the Thomas Griffiths short story prize before going on to teach writing.

During his time on The Cavalier Daily, Fred was a cartoonist and managing editor loved by many for his wit and humor. He was also a political and social activist, organizing events such as “The Blessing of the Cars,” a series of drive-in potlucks to raise money for the Charlottesville free medical clinic. 

A poster advertising a potluck to raise money for the Charlottesville free clinic, featuring "Bishop Fred Heblich and the blessing of the cars."

Fred was part of the movement for The Cavalier Daily to become independent from the University during a time when members of the newspaper’s advisory board were affiliated with Farmington Country Club, which explicitly excluded Black members with a white-only policy. 

Beginning in the 1970s when Fred was on staff, The Cavalier Daily used its platform to call attention to and challenge racist attitudes at the University. In 1975 — a few years after Fred graduated — students and faculty began to protest then-University president Frank Hereford’s Farmington membership, which ultimately led to his resignation from the club. 

Describing the atmosphere of The Cavalier Daily office when Fred was managing editor, Class of 1972 alumna Holly Smith wrote that wit “bounced off the walls” and the men — as the University had only begun to admit women two years earlier — were all “sharp and funny.” Smith noted that Fred was one of the people who stood out to her the most. 

“I arrived at U.Va. as a gullible girl who believed that the people in power generally knew what they were doing,” Smith wrote. “Fred quickly set me straight. My memory is of him laughing about how ridiculous something was and flinging his arm over his head for emphasis. Lots of times the newsroom staff couldn’t do any work because they were laughing so hard over Fred’s pronouncements.” 

Mariflo met Fred when he was managing editor — at the time, she had just begun her first job as a reporter for The Daily Progress. 

Fred as a freshman at the University.

Bob Gibson, communications director of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service and editor of The Daily Progress while Mariflo was a reporter, also reflected on Fred’s wit. 

“He was politically active, both as managing editor of The Cavalier Daily and as a force in Student Council elections,” Gibson said. “Fred never missed a good political fight. He also fought with an unfair weapon — his great sense of humor.”

In a 2018 blog post, Mariflo wrote about her encounter with The Cavalier Daily after taking a news writing class as an undergraduate at a different university. Her professor asked her to pick out the best newspaper from a stack of student newspapers, and, unbeknownst to her at the time, she selected her future husband’s paper. 

“I chose U.Va.’s Cavalier Daily, noticing that campus paper even had cartoons,” Mariflo wrote. “Sometimes when I tell this story, I include the cartoonist’s name — Heblich — and go on to reveal that I later married that cartoonist. But I’m not sure it really happened in that way. I do remember the cartoons, probably embellished the rest — that I noticed that name.” 

Mariflo’s first impression of Fred came from the advice of her friend, who warned her that the man could not hold a relationship for more than 24 hours. The two were married for 38 years. 

Fred and Mariflo are survived by their two daughters, Elisabeth Jane Heblich and Isabel Marie Zermani, as well as two grandchildren, Frederick Arthur Helleberg and Olivia Pearl Zermani. 

“We are devastated, but also feel it is somehow fitting, romantic and comforting that they are together,” Zermani wrote.