The charismatic Helms, 52, was described by his friends and his boss as a cheerful people-person with a lively wit and as a devoted father whose life centered around his two sons, ages 16 and 19.
His gregariousness and smarts made his death at the hands of a gunman all the tougher to take, friends said. Police say Helms and his wife, Marilyn, were shot to death by Jason Christopher Lambert, 35, who police said had become obsessed with Marilyn. Lambert shot the couple and then killed himself.
The news hit Ed’s longtime friend Michael Nevin like a sucker punch to the jaw.
“I almost suffocated,” said Nevin, who got a call from a friend with the news. “I had to put the phone down.”
Nevin and his brother, Tom, are two of dozens of people who remember Eddie Helms, as he was then called, from St. Bernard’s Catholic School and from Tracy High, where he was an athlete who became student body president by the time he graduated in 1975.
Mike Nevin, who now lives in the East Bay, remembers playing tennis with Ed. Later in high school, Ed was on the swimming and water polo teams and was an avid skier.
He said Ed maintained the same personality into adulthood that he had as a boy, when Tracy High classmate Debra Dingman said he got along with everyone.
“Always the same guy,” said Nevin, 54, an ad salesman with the Contra Costa Times. “Always funny … he had the personality almost like a Laurel-and-Hardy-type comic. He was a very witty, intelligent, well-read guy. Delightful.”
Classmate Bill Rieger, 51, of Nevada, was the student body vice president at Tracy High when Ed was president and last talked to him this spring.
Rieger remembers when Ed organized a powder puff girls football game at Tracy High to raise money so a nearby dirt parking lot could be paved. Ed and a couple of others dressed up in drag as cheerleaders during the game, which Rieger said was a risqué move that took some guts back in the 1970s.
Rieger remembers going to Ed’s house, where they would talk politics with parents Leo and Clair Helms, who “would excuse our raging liberalism.”
Leo Helms, for many years, owned Helms Tractor Co. on 11th Street, where Ed and his brother, Lee, worked for a time before it closed in the early 1990s, remembers Dennis Alegre, who worked for the tractor store in the mid-1980s. Ed also has a sister, Elizabeth Helms, who is married to Bruce Rohrer.
Nevin remembers the night Ed met Marilyn, who would become his wife. Mike said he had to drag Ed to the Opera House, where there was a country-western dance upstairs. Ed immediately began to talk to Marilyn, who was there with a friend.
When Nevin wanted to leave, he remembers, “Ed said, ‘I’ll see you later.’ He spent the evening dancing and having a good time” with the woman he ended up marrying.
Rieger said Ed studied economics at Santa Clara University and was good at “taking complicated subject material and explaining it in a way everybody could understand.”
It was a trait that likely helped him in his career in finance. Rieger remembers the day Ed took his exam in San Francisco so he could manage people’s financial affairs.
It was Monday, Oct. 19, 1987 — the day the stock market sank 22 percent in a single day.
“I hope this isn’t an omen of things to come,” Rieger remembers Ed saying that day.
Ed and his wife lived in Roseville about 20 years, friends say. He worked for Stonehurst Securities Inc., in an office with seven co-workers and in a building with about 200.
Ed’s boss and friend, Phillip Borup, said Ed was “always interested in other people’s lives,” and when he would walk around the building, he knew a lot of the people who worked in there, though they worked for other firms.
Mostly, his life revolved around his sons, Borup and others said.
Ed missed the Nevins’ annual camping trip near Ebbetts Pass this year because his 16-year-old son, an accomplished pianist, had a recital. He took his sons boating on Folsom Lake, and he and his 16-year-old joined in the company’s fantasy football league this year.
“He was probably one of the most dedicated fathers I know,” Borup said. “He’d get ’em up, make their lunches, drive them to school — whatever his boys were doing is what he wanted to do.”
Services for Ed Helms are tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, according to Lee Helms, but a location and time have not been determined.