Honorary Rotarian, Dr. Henry Heimlich

Honorary Rotarian, Dr. Henry Heimlich, passed away earlier this morning. Our thoughts and prayers are with with Heimlich family.

A tribute by Janet Metzelaar….

“Henry Heimlich’s assistant called me this morning to let me know that Hank passed away around midnight last night. He had a heart attack a week or so ago, was hospitalized, in recovery, and then suffered another.

During the past several years, it always pleased me to greet him and ask how he was doing, and he invariably said, “Never better.” He was joyful, so grateful for the outings to meet Rotarians, engage in our events, meet strangers. The last time I saw him was on Thanksgiving Day. Shirley Love had met a thoracic doctor, Koichi Tomoshige, from Japan doing experimental research at University Hospital to find a cure for lung cancer. He is on a research fellowship here in the U.S. and was so interested to hear about Dr. Heimlich’s own research. We met at Hank’s place the Saturday before Thanksgiving to make introductions, and Hank gave him an autographed copy of “The Heimlich Maneuvers.” We met again on Thanksgiving Day so Koichi could introduce Hank to his wife and 3 young sons. We brought dishes to have a small Thanksgiving Day lunch. Koichi was thrilled to meet him…but Hank was equally thrilled to meet Koichi and was charmed by his wife – also a doctor – and their darling little boys. The last thing he said to Koichi, most sincerely, was for him to call on him if he needed help in any way.

In the past several months, Hank and I have been to many events together – and we always met people who were so excited they could share their stories about how they have been touched by him and the Heimlich Maneuver. At the Rotary Zone Conference, one of the Rotarians told us a story of taking her RoterAct students on a service project all around their community to teach the maneuver at restaurants, dry cleaners, anyplace where there were people to teach. She told us that just the previous evening, she and her family were at McDonald’s, and her 96 year old mother began choking. She pulled her out of the booth, administered the maneuver and saved her life. Hank’s eyes lit up – as they always did – and he was so truly touched. “How wonderful,” he said over and over. A couple told of saving a best friend. A woman learned the maneuver to become a life guard at 60. The stories went on and on. He was happy that he had created a way for others to save lives of friends and strangers. I think he experienced it as a gift, and each story of a life saved was a gift back to him.

When we were out, I often introduced him to people who served us… at valet parking, hotel staff, and to strangers at restaurants, actors at the Children’s Theatre, fans at a Reds game, and always introduced him. We invited anyone to be in a picture with him so they could have a memory that they had met Dr. Henry Heimlich, and that he valued every one of them.

His wife Jane and I were dear friends – and I miss her still. She hosted a writing group, where we shared essays, poetry, and even working chapters of her memoir, “Out of Step.” She was graceful, lovely and had a way of fully engaging with others. After she died, knowing them so well, I knew how alone he would be without her. I invited him to go to Rotarian homes for After Hours, to go on the rooftop and enjoy the fireworks at the Baden’s, to take a golf cart tour at the Camp Allyn Picnic, to greet children at the Condon Christmas Party, to go on the WageCincyPeace boat ride, to attend the Red Light Christmas Party, to attend a Fireside Chat with John Pepper…so many memories and moments we treasured. He was always game to come along if he wasn’t already planning to go the the symphony or opera or a doctor visit of one kind or another. We always saw it as an adventure, and when I picked him up, we would joke about how I was kidnapping him and we were off to South Dakota or some other state far away. We drove through parts of the city he had never seen and was always fascinated – and with my GPS – happily trusted me to get us un-lost when we had lost our way. He had the capacity to treat me in a way I always felt special around him. He was always playful and grateful.

I will miss his sharp mind, wonderful stories, deep commitment to humanity and peace…but mostly him.  He lived with a sense of wonder, ready to seize each day, take on the next challenge. His spirit now sparkles in the stars.”