© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Remembering Joe Heller


When Monique Heller's father, Joe, died this week, she was moved to write a uniquely touching obituary for their local newspaper.

MONIQUE HELLER: Joe Heller made his last undignified and largely irreverent gesture on September 8, 2019, signing off on a life, in his words, generally well-lived and with few regrets. When the doctors confronted his daughters with the news last week that your father is a very sick man, in unison they replied, you have no idea.

SIMON: Monique Heller joins us now from Old Lyme, Conn. Thanks so much for being with us.

HELLER: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: First, we're certainly all sorry for your loss. We should explain, as I guess your father probably had to a lot in his life, that he wasn't the other Joe Heller.

HELLER: That's correct.

SIMON: The novelist. But boy, he sounds like an extraordinary character all his own, wasn't he?

HELLER: He was. He was larger than life. And he was certainly characterized as a colorful individual.

SIMON: A prankster, right?

HELLER: He was a prankster. And, sometimes, he thought that revenge was a dish best served cold.

SIMON: (Laughter) Can you give us a for instance?

HELLER: One of my father's neighbors had a tool shed erected in the backyard. And I think it was honestly out of jealousy because he wanted one of his own, and my mother didn't want him to have another repository for his dump dives. And my father took an ad out in the local paper that it was a cottage available...

SIMON: (Laughter).

HELLER: ...In, you know, a very small dimension. And the neighbor did get an awful lot of inquiries about this cottage on his property.

SIMON: And I guess he had a way with stray dogs?

HELLER: He certainly did. There really was not a stray animal that crossed his way that he didn't find some love for. At any given time, we would have stray snakes. We would have a raccoon that he rehabilitated, geese, injured birds if they had fallen out of their nest. If there was a creature or a person in need, my dad was the go-to person.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh, sounds like he had a huge heart.

HELLER: He had an absolutely huge heart. And in his retirement, the town of Essex approached him with this position as animal control officer, but he didn't always follow the rules. And as every town has, there are ordinances when stray animals are brought in, or they're dropped off. And there was an expectation that those animals be adopted out just as quickly as possible. And one of his frequent flyers, I did mention in his obituary, was a rather colorful pit dog mix. And this dog in particular had such separation anxiety that every time my Dad adopted him out, he would go to the home, and he would make sure that the person was committed to taking this dog with them wherever they went. And the first time the dog was returned was probably, I want to say, a 12-hour venture on the adoptees part. Apparently, this dog had eaten an entire couch.

SIMON: (Laughter).

HELLER: And the second time did not last that long - it was, I would say, a two-hour visit and the dog had eaten the entire steering wheel.

SIMON: Oh, I didn't know you could eat a steering wheel.

HELLER: Yes. And so on the intake form where this dog kept returning, my dad would change his coloring and his markings and his pedigree just a little bit, so it would look like a new dog had come to visit the pound.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. Ms. Heller, I just found out about him, and I'm going to miss him.

HELLER: You know, and actually, we are getting messages from people who never met my father and said, the world needs more people like Joe. They are there to serve others. They're there when people are at their lowest. They're there to sit down with a person and have a coffee and conversation and really get to know someone.

SIMON: Well, Monique Heller, thanks for sharing your father with so many of us.

HELLER: I appreciate it. Thank you so much.


KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.