A Writer's Odyssey - W.C. Heinz, Noted Writer From Dorset, Dies At 93
FROM: The Manchester Journal ~
By Donald Keelan, Special to the Journal
The journey for W.C. "Bill" Heinz, from his birthplace in
Mt. Vernon, N.Y. to Dorset, spanned 93 years, one that came to
an end early Wednesday morning, Feb. 27. The geographic
distance between these two places may not be significant; what
Bill Heinz had accomplished in between was legendary.
For Heinz, his odyssey had begun in 1933 upon his graduation
from Mt. Vernon High School. From this densely populated city,
next to the Bronx, Heinz traveled by train to Middlebury, and
enrolled as a freshman, at Middlebury College. It was one of the
few colleges his parents could afford.
Not long into his political science studies, he met a junior, who
was conducting a meeting, Elizabeth (Betty) Bailey, who in 1935,
with Bill as her escort, was the college's winter carnival queen,
and later, in January 1941 his wife and lifelong partner, until her
death in 2002.
Bill was intrigued by the newspaper world. And for him that
world was centered in New York City. In 1937, New York City
was home to nearly a dozen daily, afternoon and evening
newspapers. But it was The New York Sun that gave Heinz his
start in the newspaper publishing world, as a copy boy.
New York City, not unlike the rest of the country, was still in
the clutches of the Great Depression when Heinz had arrived
upon graduation from Middlebury College. However, for the
city's masses, their escape was going out to the baseball parks
to see the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York baseball Giants,
and the New York Yankees. Heinz was at the ballpark, not as
a fan, but as a sports reporter. His editor, Keats Speed, had
seen that Heinz had a gift for reporting and elevated him from
copy boy to the city desk.
A few years into Heinz's tenure at the Sun, Keats Speed had
another assignment for his young reporter. It was to put on
a uniform, that of a war correspondent. While still in his late
20s Heinz's new assignment would become the defining point
in his illustrious writing career, as well as in his life.
In 1944 when Heinz sailed for England, World War II was at
its peak. On June 6, 1944, D-Day, Heinz once again had a
ringside seat. It was located on the upper deck of the USS
Nevada, a battleship that had been sunk at Pearl Harbor.
This massive weapon of war had been refloated, repaired and
brought back to rejoin the fleet and seek its revenge on the
Axis. After the landing at Normandy, The New York Sun's
senior war correspondent, Gault McGowan, became a
prisoner of war. Heinz was now the paper's senior war
correspondent and followed the American First Army from
Cherbourg to the Elbe.
Bill Heinz had once made a comment that World War II
represented a "canvas" so large that no artist, writer or
photographer would ever see anything like it again. His
book "When We Were One," published in 2002,
chronicles many of his dispatches from the war as well
as pieces written about the war in later years. The
historian John S.D. Eisenhower noted, "'When We Were
One' is journalistic literature at its best; suspenseful,
harrowing and touching."
Other accolades had been given to other books that
Heinz had authored or co-authored. When
"The Professional" was published in 1958, Ernest
Hemingway wrote that it was "the only good novel about
a fighter I've ever read and an excellent first novel in it's own
What is not widely known is that in 1968, Heinz, using the
pen name, Richard Hooker, co-authored the novel
M*A*S*H, and today we all know the huge success that
followed its publication.
Bill's passion for excellence in writing did not go unnoticed.
He had been a five time winner of the prestigious E.P. Dutton
award for excellence in magazine writing. Also, and
unprecedented during his professional life, Heinz would be
inducted into three Halls of Fame, the Sportswriters, War
Correspondents and The Boxing Hall of Fame.
At times we are known for whose company we are thought
of. According to Bill Littlefield, host of National Public
Radio's "Only a Game," Bill Heinz "ran with the best -
George Plimpton, the late David Halderstom and Damon
Runyon." Littlefield's praise for Heinz is also echoed by
John Schulian, a long time contributor to Sports Illustrated.
Schulian noted that "Bill has a place alongside those of his
great friends (and fellow sports writers) Red Smith, Jimmy
Cannon and John Larnia."
But it was Heinz's passion for a local Vermont issue, one
in Manchester, that kept a fire within him that was not be
extinguished. It would become an all-consuming effort on
his part and it occurred nearly 20 years ago. In the late
1980s, the former Mount Laurel School building was no
longer needed to operate by providing education to children
who were mentally challenged. Under federal and state law
they were to be enrolled in public schools.
Heinz's years of work as a trustee, (Betty also had served as
a trustee) for the Mt. Laurel School came to a boil when it
was reported that the Town of Manchester would pay
$100,000 to the Mt. Laurel organization for their school
(today, the Town Hall of Manchester). The town leaders
had no inkling of Heinz's fury over their "low ball" offer for
the property. Heinz's crusade through the newspapers and
the courts won the fight and $350,000 was paid by the town
for the old school, although for the legendary boxing writer
the decision was not quite the "knockout" that he had
The results of Heinz's stubbornness, steadfastness and
perseverance of 20 years ago can be witnessed today.
The proceeds from the sale formed the basis of the
Mt. Laurel Foundation, which continues to provide over
$50,000 a year to area nonprofit organizations that treat,
educate and care for those children who are in need of
mental health resources.
Bill and Betty Heinz's involvement with the afflicted was not
limited to Mt. Laurel. During their lifetime, it was their
passion to insure that pediatric medical research into
children's diseases would be carried on long after their
deaths. Today, at the University of Vermont School of
Medicine, the Barbara Bailey Heinz and Gayl Bailey Heinz
Charitable Trust will enable future doctors to continue their
research. The Trust that Betty and Bill had established was
in part a memorial to their 16-year-old daughter, Barbara,
who had died on February 27, 1964 in Stamford, Conn.
from a viral infection, 44 years to the day before her father
It was the late Dewitt "Pete" Copp of Manchester who first
introduced me to Bill and Betty. Pete was the editor of my
first manuscript and had one purpose on that July day in
1992. He brought me up to the top of Nichols Hill in Dorset
so I could meet someone that he believed was one of the
most descriptive writers he had ever known. And as my
editor, he wanted Heinz's writing skills to somehow rub off.
And thus began numerous coaching sessions as well as a
friendship that continued until Bill's death. To have had Bill
as a writing coach would be comparable to having Tiger
Woods as a golf coach. On countless occasions, up until a
year or so ago, Bill would critique my writing, whether at
his home in Dorset or at the assisted living facility, Fillmore
Pond in Bennington. He would do this by noting his
comments in the left or right margins. He consistently
emphasized his own trademark, "keep the sentence brief, use
fewer words." For some unknown reason, Heinz, who was
well known for his impatience and irascible personality, never
allowed these attributes to come into play when applying his
The adage that the apple does not fall far from the tree is
quite true in the Heinz's family. Bill and Betty's
granddaughter, Kristina Heinz Pantalone, is a senior and a
media production major at Connecticut's Quinnipiac
University. Last summer she completed an internship at the
home office of The Boston Red Sox organization. In
October, she skipped classes in order to ride on one of the
floats in the World Series Victory Parade in downtown
It's quite possible that the legendary Heinz's name will continue
in the nation's newspapers sports pages and airwaves. Bill
should be smiling and at the same time whispering to Kristina,
"keep your sentences short, and above all, be accurate."