John Francis Heil, Jr.
Feb 29, 1936 - Jan 13, 2019
John Francis Heil, Jr., provided the world light for 82 years. The light he provided was not a bright flash, but a consistent and steadfast glow that drew people in, often attracting them for the tenure of their own lives. These rich friendships made him invaluable to colleagues, treasured by friends, loved by family, and an example to all who met him.
John began his life in 1936 as a native son of San Francisco, CA. His parents, John Francis Heil, Sr. and Helen, did their best to be bad influences on the boy, the centerpiece being weekly dinners at Pete's Café in North Beach. The un-assuming eatery was actually a dance hall and bar to those who knew of it's bootleg history, and had served many thirsty patrons during prohibition. Pete Ciarlanti and his wife took care of the Heils and their many family friends during these dinners. Papa Pete treated young John and his older brother, Carson, to Coca Cola, then screwdrivers, and eventually graduated John to bourbon in his 18th year. It was at Pete's Café that John was exposed to folks from all walks of life, and even vividly remembered witnessing the rage and confusion of Dec 7, 1941 under it's roof.
Despite all attempts to aid John's delinquency by those around him, the young man excelled.
After graduation from George Washington High School, John began attending UC Berkeley, immediately gravitating toward sciences. He graduated from Cal in 1957 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, while fulfilling an army commission through the R.O.T.C. program, which he remained involved in after his return from active duty at Fort Lee, Va. in 1958. He joined up with the 91st division at the Presidio in San Francisco, and served for many years in the 363d regt., eventually reaching his last rank and assignment of Lt.Col., Asst. Chief of Staff, G3 [operations and training] in 1975. He was beloved by his army peers, and often praised for his ability to nourish training and morale. John loved the symbiosis of his civilian career and military career, always learning and applying skills from one to the other.
With his crisp B.S. in hand, John began his career with Stauffer Chemical. Stauffer supported and nurtured the young engineer, and encouraged him to move forward with his education. John went back to UC Berkeley, this time obtaining his PhD in Chemical Engineering in 1965. These two relationships were critical for John: he remained with Stauffer through many iterations and promotions, and remained tightly linked to the University Chemistry Department, taking on an advisory position there in 1985. When he tried to resign as chairman from the advisory board at Berkeley in 1987, the Dean of the College of Chemistry personally asked John to stay and undertake some personal projects for him, which John enthusiastically accepted. John's warm and consistent glow forged strong relationships with the two major institutions that helped shape his life, providing a wealth of satisfaction and happiness well past retirement.
Beyond his academic and professional success, John had a full and varied hobby life. He ran every day and swam around his Marin home (well past his 75th year), traveled all over the world with friends and family, was an accomplished photographer, taught himself how to read Italian (just so he could enjoy an Italian newspaper!), and put his green thumb to good use in the garden. He was well known for being a huge contributor and lover of the arts, particularly the SF Opera, SF Ballet, SF Symphony, the Lamplighters, Chanticleer, SF Bach Choir, and the American Bach Soloists. His house was full of the classics, both literary and musical, all meticulously sorted and accounted for.
Among his family, John will always be known as the example of an absolute gentlemen. A man who appreciated the finer things in life, but had worked hard to get there. He was a genius, and could readily absorb any topic with enthusiasm (the last thing he had pulled up on his computer was the schematics for the cooling system on his Cadillac!). John was quiet, but never shy; merely respectful, and truly listening to others. He prized family above all else, showing love and support to each new generation that blossomed around him with gentleness and grace.
John is survived by his many friends and extended family, who are all missing him dearly. That being said, they fully expect Papa Pete to have a cold Martini and a full room of loved ones waiting for him upon his arrival, wherever that may be.