The Passing of Ginny Heinlein
January 18, 2003
Laura Haywood, a close friend of Ginny’s had been reporting daily on her condition.
On Saturday Morning 1/18/03 I received the following:
Not very much to report. She did her physical therapy today. I got there around three and she was deep in herself. I had brought her a new magnifying glass and she literally patted me on the head and said, “You’re a good girl.” But after that, she was silent. I asked her if she wanted to go outside for a cigarette and she didn’t answer. “Ginny, just say yes or just say no,” I said. “Just say yes or just say no,” she replied. And that’s about it.
Then came the sad news:
I’m sorry to tell you that Ginny passed away this morning. She slipped away peacefully in her sleep. I don’t know any details beyond that.
I responded with:
This is very sad news. My heartfelt condolences to all who were close to her. I am going to miss her very much.
We’ll all miss her — she was one of a kind.
David Silver responded:
Oh, Dear God, may she find peace.
I am so sorry to read this.
Dr. Amy Baxter, Ginny’s “Granddaughter” responded:
Thanks to everyone who was close to her and gave her comfort, solace, mental stimulation, and support over her life and especially this last tough year.
I was talking to Jim Cunningham about what to tell people who want to do something in her memory. When she and I spoke about how she’d like to be remembered, she said she didn’t much care because she wouldn’t be around to appreciate it anyway. Jim suggested anyone who wished to do something could donate a pint of blood in her memory, and I added write a letter to try to get a stamp made of Robert (maybe both of them?) As the news spreads, if you would all pass these ideas along in lieu of flowers, donations of money, etc.
David Silver posted the following on A.F.H. and SFF.Discuss.Heinlein-Forum
I received the following e-mail message from a close friend of Mrs. Virginia Heinlein, this morning:
“I’m sorry to tell you that Ginny passed away this morning. She slipped away peacefully in her sleep. I don’t know any details beyond that.”
Mrs. Heinlein had been in the hospital since Thanksgiving when she fell and broke her hip. At her wishes, since that time, those of us aware of the accident, have not given out that information or other details.
I’m sure there will be more formal announcements, requests, details, later. I am deeply saddened. She was an inspiration to all she touched.
David M. Silver
As expected, there were many expressions of grief and sympathy by participants of the newsgroups.
James R. Cunningham posted on the newsgroups this additional news:
For those of you who know of Ginny’s cat Snowy, he has been staying with a friend since Thanksgiving, is happy, and will remain there.
If you’d like to know how Ginny came by Snowy,…. Lela and I had a litter of kittens, or rather, one of our momma cats did. One became trapped in a piece of string while we were at work, and we had to take it to the vet that night and have its leg amputated. The next day, I was telling Ginny about it, and she said, “Oh, I wish I could take it, but they don’t allow pets here”. I told her we’d bring it to her if it survived and Fleet Landing decided to allow it. She said she’d check and called the next day to tell me to bring it on as soon as it could travel. So, even though it was touch and go with the kitten, we made plans to carry it to Florida if it survived. The day before we were to leave the kitten died, rather unexpectedly. I called Ginny to tell her and she remarked that she had really been looking forward to a new kitten (she still missed Pixel). So I responded with, “I got another one, only there ain’t nuthin’ wrong with it”. She said, “Bring it on”, so there we went with Snowy. Let me tell you, kittens don’t like spending 4 1/2 hours in a small plane. Snowy turned out to be a great white hunter, and the source of several Fleet Landing tales. I’ll pass them on later if anyone wants to hear them.
Thank you all for caring,
And Jim wrote the following also:
I’d like to add that arrangements were being made to provide some additional safety features at Ginny’s house, and to move her back home next week. She was aware of that and pleased by it. She was a fighter to the end, doing physical therapy as recently as yesterday (Friday), and her sense of humor was intact. Lela and I are going to miss her immensely. But we will be forever grateful that our circle of friends grew because of her and those who care about her.
From: Joel Rosenberg
Subject: A short remiscence about Mrs. Heinlein
Date: Sunday, January 19, 2003 10:38 AM
She’d been talking for some time about being ready to go; we had a long conversation on the subject more than a year ago.
Tough lady; sweet lady; nice lady. It used to be a regular part of my daughter Judy’s morning routine to chat online with her before leaving for school, and both Judy and Mrs. Heinlein (she insisted that Felicia and I call her Ginny; it was all we could do not to say, “I’d be honored to call you Ginny, Mrs. Heinlein” — she was like that) looked forward to them.
A short story…
Judy’s had some trouble in school — not getting homework done, and such, and coming up with a whole variety of excuses, including, honest, “the dog ate my homework.” Her teachers were not pleased.
I got a call from her exasperated science teacher one morning. “You wouldn’t believe what her lie was this morning. She said she couldn’t finish her homework because she was too busy chatting with Mrs. Heinlein — Robert A. Heinlein’s widow.”
“Well,” I said, “she does have to finish her homework, but . . . ”
I could hear his jaw drop. “But what?”
“Well, yes, she was — they chat every morning.”
I told Ginny about it, and her first reaction was to apologize — which, of course, I explained was both accepted and unnecessary — and, secondly, to ask if it would be okay if they continued their chats, as she really enjoyed them so much. (Actually, she was very formal about the last. “Might I please have your permission. . . “)
Not exactly a hard call — I said of course, that Judy would have to do her homework, anyway, but she certainly could find time in her day for five or ten or fifteen minutes to chat before she left for school.
From then on, every one of their chats began with Mrs. Heinlein asking Judy, “Is your homework done? It’s very important.”
I had to tell Judy, yesterday, about Mrs. Heinlein. I’ve done things I’ve enjoyed less, but I can’t quite remember one offhand.
(she insisted that Felicia
>and I call her Ginny; it was all we could do not to say, “I’d be
>honored to call you Ginny, Mrs. Heinlein” — she was like that) looked
>forward to them.
I know the feeling, Joel. We e-mailed for a fair while before we ever begain IM chatting. I always addressed ehr as Mrs. Heinlein, since she signed Virginia Heinlein. I learned to call her Ginny when she began signing that way, and someone (David Silver, was it you?) let me know she would prefer it. I did not want to hold her at arm’s length, just couldn’t be so presumptuous.
>A short story… >
From then on, every one of their chats began with Mrs. Heinlein asking >Judy, “Is your homework done? It’s very important.” Oh, Joel, thank you for a wonderful story that is so characteristic of this fine lady.
>I had to tell Judy, yesterday, about Mrs. Heinlein. I’ve done things
>I’ve enjoyed less, but I can’t quite remember one offhand.
I cannot imagine one quite offhand, either. Special hugs to you daughter.
Nah, she’s not resting–she is DOING all those things she has missed for several years now. Enjoying not resting: ice-skating, gardening, doing research, making music, painting, taking photographs, and I don’t know what-all. And some fine snuggling with Robert, I feel sure. Or, if Jani is right about it taking a little time, then she is getting ready for same, and maybe seeing us wave goodbye.
–DeeIn article, “Dee”wrote:
>>”Joel Rosenberg” wrote in message
>(she insisted that Felicia
>>and I call her Ginny; it was all we could do not to say, “I’d be
>>honored to call you Ginny, Mrs. Heinlein” — she was like that) looked
>>forward to them.
> I know the feeling, Joel. We e-mailed for a fair while before we ever
>begain IM chatting. I always addressed ehr as Mrs. Heinlein, since she
>signed Virginia Heinlein. I learned to call her Ginny when she began
>signing that way, and someone (David Silver, was it you?) let me know she
>would prefer it. I did not want to hold her at arm’s length, just couldn’t
>be so presumptuous.
>>A short story…
From then on, every one of their chats began with Mrs. Heinlein asking
>>Judy, “Is your homework done? It’s very important.”
> Oh, Joel, thank you for a wonderful story that is so characteristic of
>this fine lady.
>>I had to tell Judy, yesterday, about Mrs. Heinlein. I’ve done things
>>I’ve enjoyed less, but I can’t quite remember one offhand.
> I cannot imagine one quite offhand, either. Special hugs to you
> Nah, she’s not resting–she is DOING all those things she has missed for
>several years now. Enjoying not resting: ice-skating, gardening, doing
>research, making music, painting, taking photographs, and I don’t know
And holding a book in her lap and READING it!
>And some fine snuggling with Robert, I feel sure. Or, if Jani is
>right about it taking a little time, then she is getting ready for same, and
>maybe seeing us wave goodbye.
Lord it is evening
and the night has come.
It is the time for peace.
It is the time for rest.
It is time to lay down
the work we could not finish
Lord you have closed
our sister Ginny’s eyes.
You have stilled her form,
she is at peace.
Take her in your arms
and carry her to her rest.
Ronald A. Harrison
January 19, 2003
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From: David M. Silver
Subject: Re: ReTITLED: LA Times Obit: Virginia Heinlein
Date: Sunday, January 26, 2003 5:59 AM
To heck with it. You all should be able to read it whether you can access their site or not. They did such a wonderful job, I’m copying and posting it here (only one slight confusion). They can come sue me:
Virginia Heinlein, 86; Wife, Muse and Literary Guardian of Celebrated Science Fiction Writer
By Elaine Woo, Times Staff Writer
Virginia Heinlein, who gave her husband, science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, the idea for his acclaimed 1961 novel “Stranger in a Strange Land” and inspired many of the strong female characters in his stories, died Jan. 18 at a retirement community in Atlantic Beach, Fla. She was 86.
Heinlein died in her sleep after a long struggle with respiratory illness and a broken hip suffered on Thanksgiving, said David M. Silver, secretary-treasurer of the Heinlein Society.
Her husband’s muse, manager and literary guardian, Virginia Heinlein was widely known and respected in the science fiction community for her devotion to the Heinlein legacy after the prolific writer’s death in 1988 at the age of 80.
She was responsible for the posthumous publication of the original, uncut manuscript of “Stranger in a Strange Land” in 1990, as well as for “Grumbles From the Grave,” a selection of his letters; the travel memoir “Tramp Royale”; and a political handbook, “Take Back Your Government.”
Robert Heinlein was considered by many to be the most influential science fiction author since H.G. Wells. During a five-decade career that produced 37 novels and 11 short-story collections, he won an unprecedented four Hugo Awards, given by popular vote of science fiction fans for the best novel of the year.
“Stranger in a Strange Land” was his best-known work. It became, to the author’s dismay, a favorite of the iconoclastic ’60s generation, in part for its apparent advocacy of free love and cynicism about organized religion.
The story behind the novel began with the November 1948 issue of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. In keeping with the speculative nature of the genre, a letter writer complimented the editor on an issue a year in the future, going so far as to mention stories by specific writers. The editor, John W. Campbell Jr., decided to fulfill the letter writer’s fantasy and have the stories written for the November 1949 issue.
The letter writer said one of the stories was “Gulf” by Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein accepted the assignment, then held a brainstorming session with his closest advisor — his wife.
“Among other unsuitable notions, I suggested a story about a human infant raised by an alien race,” Virginia Heinlein wrote years later.
Her husband liked the idea, made some notes, but then set them aside. The idea was “too big” for a short story, so he pursued a different theme for “Gulf.”
He returned to the notes for the other story in fits and starts over the next decade. The eventual result was “Stranger in a Strange Land,” which introduced the character Valentine Michael Smith as a baby raised by Martians on Mars with a wisdom far beyond that of any earthling.
The author turned in a manuscript 800 pages long. His publishers, fearful of some of the contents, including lengthy descriptions of Martian sex, requested a big reduction, of about 250 pages.
“He always resented the fact they had made him cut a substantial amount of his work,” Silver said. “She wanted it restored.” But it took an act of Congress and Robert Heinlein’s death before that could be accomplished.
In 1976, Congress passed a law that allowed renegotiation of copyright issues after an author’s death. The copyright for “Stranger” came up the year after Heinlein died, in 1988.
Virginia requested a copy of the original manuscript, which was archived at UC Santa Cruz along with other papers. “I … read that and the published version side by side,” she wrote. “And I came to the conclusion that it had been a mistake to cut the book.”
In 1990, the unexpurgated, 220,000-word version of “Stranger” was published by Ace/G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Reviewers were split over the new edition. Some, like Rudy Rucker in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, preferred the older, shorter version, commenting that much of the material restored in the new one was “glaringly sexist.” Others, such as novelist Kurt Vonnegut, found the restorations salutary. Writing in the New York Times, he pronounced them “icing on a cake which for people who like that kind of cake was already quite satisfactory.”
The Heinleins married in 1948, a few years after they met at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia, where she was a chemist and aviation test engineer and he a civilian engineer. He had been a first lieutenant in the Navy before receiving a medical discharge because of tuberculosis in 1934. She was his assistant, even though as a lieutenant commander she outranked him.
A Brooklyn dentist’s daughter who majored in chemistry at New York University, she was an accomplished swimmer and diver who reached national competitive levels in figure skating. She spoke seven languages, including French, Latin and Russian, and studied for a doctorate in biochemistry at UCLA.
Her husband, who called her Ginny, once described her as “redheaded and quite … an athlete — four letters in college — and [she] could probably lick me in a fair fight…. She outranks me on the Navy rolls, which seems to give her quite a bit of satisfaction.”
Athletic throughout her life, she once saved Robert’s life when he collapsed on a hill in Tahiti. Although shorter than he, she threw him over her back and carried him down to the beach, where he was flown to Australia for medical treatment.
Another time, she amazed him and a friend, writer Jerry Pournelle, when they were snowbound at their house in Colorado Springs. The two men were desperate for breakfast, but seeing no hope of obtaining any after inspecting the Heinleins’ 1948 Cadillac frozen to the driveway, returned glumly to the kitchen. There, to their astonishment, was Virginia, frying bacon and eggs.
“She said, ‘I just went up the hill and got some. There were steel lugs in the tire, some water in the driveway, and the tires had frozen, so I just took a pot of hot water and got them loose and drove up the hill.’ ”
Virginia Heinlein, Pournelle said, “was a better engineer than he was. He was very proud of her.”
She was the model for many of the superwomen who crop up in her husband’s stories, such as Maureen Johnson Smith, the mother of the immortal Lazarus Long in “Time Enough for Love,” published in 1973. The female characters tend to have red hair, like Virginia’s, as well as great wit and an ability to overcome adversity with aplomb.
Greg Bear, a science fiction writer who knew the Heinleins, said he has met women who were inspired by Robert’s stories to become scientists. “And Robert,” Bear said, “was inspired by Ginny. Ginny was their original.”
The Heinleins had no children. Her ashes will be scattered in the Pacific Ocean, as were her husband’s.