Charles Heinle, Concord poet, writer, and publisher; at age 95

Mr. Heinle with his daughter Katherine in France.
Mr. Heinle with his daughter Katherine in France.

Wearing one of his Russian fur or Irish Donegal tweed hats, Charles August Steuber Heinle, with his French Briard sheepdog, was a common sight on the streets of Concord for many years. He had moved there when he was in his mid-50s to be near the place where his hero, poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, was born and buried.

In honor of Thoreau’s book, “Walden, ” he married his wife, Beverly, at Walden Pond in 1973 on Christmas Day, which was also his birthday.

“It was snowing but suddenly the sun came out,” she said. “When the ceremony was over, it started snowing again.’’


His “dynamic personality’’ and his charm had attracted her, said Beverly, who was his business partner when they owned Pimsleur Language Programs. “We had a complete personal-professional relationship. Our business and home life merged and we shared every aspect of our lives.’’

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Mr. Heinle, a publisher, writer, and poet, died of Alzheimer’s disease on July 23 at Concord Health Care Center in Concord. He was 95.

His daughter, Elisabeth Weir of San Francisco, said he died peacefully wearing headphones and listening to Brahms’s “Ein Deutsches Requiem” (Op. 45) — “one of his very favorite pieces.”

After fulfilling years in a variety of jobs, Mr. Heinle’s interest in foreign language education led him to meet Paul Pimsleur, creator of Pimsleur Language Programs, in 1966.

In 1974, he bought the language program business, renaming it Heinle & Heinle Enterprises, Inc., and ran it until he sold it to Simon & Schuster in 1997.


“Charles was not a man who waited around for things to happen,’’ Weir said. “If he wanted something, he made it happen.”

He had boundless energy, she said.

“He got up early every day, worked hard, often eating lunch standing up and often worked late. But then he had the energy when he came home to play with his children, to sing opera as he washed dishes, which was his job — and no one had better try and take it away from him.”

Lili Ott, a neighbor and director of the Concord Art Association, called him a renaissance man “interested in music, art, a number of businesses” and travel.

He often went on business trips to France, a country he loved, and took his family.


Weir said her father was generally very strong with “business French,” but after a few glasses of wine, he became as fluent “as a native.”

‘Charles was not a man who waited around for things to happen. If he wanted something, he made it happen.’

She recalled one time when he was dancing along the ledge of a high wall, singing risqué French songs.

“Everyone was a bit worried he would fall to his death,” she said, “but that night he was as graceful as Fred Astaire.”

During the daytime, he worked — “because work was life to him, and the idea of taking a vacation and not working was incomprehensible to him” — while her mother would take her and her siblings to museums.

“But evenings were another matter,” she said. “Lots of wine was drunk and everyone talked with and over everyone else. It was wonderful — loud and a bit mad — but truly a loving ‘family’ enjoying each other’s company.”

His daughter Katherine Perry of Melrose said he could talk with anyone and charmed everyone.

“His sense of humor was wicked and unique,” she said. “He also had a really quick, feisty temper, and an ability to develop the most creative curses when he got worked up.”

His son John of Santa Cruz, Calif., called him a “charmer.”

“Pop was an amazing salesman,’’ he said. “Once he applied for a job selling refrigerators and while he was waiting for the interviewer to show up he sold two refrigerators. In the 1950s, he sold Singer sewing machines door-to-door.’’

Over the years, Mr. Heinle held many different kinds of jobs: working for his father in marketing and distributing Heinle’s Root Beer, serving as a legal and accounting clerk for Girard Trust of Philadelphia, and doing research for the novelist Irving Stone in California.

He was, by all accounts, a man of principle and was a conscientious objector at the start of World War II.

“He was at first adamant about his ideas as a pacifist,’’ Weir said in her eulogy during a service held Aug. 4 at the Concord Art Association. “Even though he had a family, was over the draft age, and had not been called up for service, he followed the courage of his convictions and volunteered in order to declare himself as a conscientious objector. He spent several months in a conscientious objector’s camp,” she said, “before he realized the only right course would be to directly combat the atrocities of the Axis.”

He joined the Army Air Force and operated an armed forces radio station in Japan.

He was born to pharmaceutical chemist and inventor, Charles J. and Elisabeth Steuber Heinle, a nurse, in Philadelphia, where he grew up.

As a child, Weir said, Mr. Heinle excelled in piano, clarinet, organ, and had “a glorious baritone voice.’’ He dreamed of an operatic career and studied under the famous voice teacher Giuseppe Boghetti. He made his first operatic appearance in “Martha’’ while a student at Olney High School.

He was 24 when he made his first solo performance at Carnegie Hall in 1940 with Schumann’s “Die Beiden Grenadiere,’’ but, Weir said, a botched surgery ended his opera dreams.

Mr. Heinle threw himself into his other love, literature. He published his first book of poetry, “Bridges,’’ in 1937 and it was followed by “On Shifting Sands” in 1941.

In 1938, he graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia with a major in English and that same year, he married Ruth Leight. They divorced in 1972.

The following year, he married Beverly D. Hoffman-Voigt.

She said while his smile first attracted her — “He could charm anyone with that smile, and he could charm me with it every time” — his intellect made her fall in love.

“Truly, it was the conversations we had, and the way we were just in synch in all our beliefs and philosophies,” she said. “He was a very handsome man, but I loved him for his intelligence and his wit.”

It was not until after the war, that Mr. Heinle ventured into the publishing world. In 1955, he joined Chilton Book Co. near Philadelphia and became its American distributor for materials published by the French Ministry of Culture.

Mr. Heinle’s poetry reflected his feelings for loved ones who had passed on. He wrote in “Elegy”:

To those who have ‘gone on a little way’

We dedicate this little song to you.

You are unseen, but unforgotten still.

Departed ones, we keep your memory true.

The darkened room has lost of its despair,

It is as though you had not gone at all

Expectantly we wait to hear your voice

In bird-song as the twilight shadows fall.

In addition to his wife, two daughters, and son, Mr. Heinle leaves another daughter, Dolores L. Beatty of Philadelphia; two other sons, Charles of Princeton, N.J., and Raymond J. of Philadelphia; a half brother, Edward of Rockford, Ill., 10 grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren.

His family members planned to express their love with an epitaph from Roald Dahl’s “Danny, The Champion of the World”:

“Simply the most marvelous, exciting father any kid ever had.’’

Gloria Negri can be reached at