Remembering James B. Heitler
December 9, 1942, to October 7, 2020)


  By Howie Levy                                    

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind,
flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”

Jim Heitler passed suddenly on October 7th, 2020, from a pulmonary embolism at age 77. Jim was a bright, universally liked and widely popular Oceanside High School Sailor. Although we had not seen each other for about 30 years, we stayed in touch, and he  was  a lifelong, dear friend of mine since I met him in our jr. high band in 1954. We were 11. Now, like many of us, I feel the loss of my old friend deeply.

Jim was born in New York City but raised in Brooklyn (curiously, right next door to my first cousin) until the Heitler family moved to Oceanside in the early 1950s.

As many will remember, along with the equally popular and lovely Bev Barnes, Jim was voted the best looking in our senior class. He was also a talented musician who played trumpet in our school band and was a member of our varsity tennis team. While in school, Jim was the only OHS Sailor in a near local band called the Swing Kings. Many of you may remember that they played rock 'n' roll music at Saturday night dances frequently held at the Oceanside Jewish Center. (Jim used to tell  me that  rock 'n' roll was easy to play because it was all based on three chords. I didn't believe him.)

 Jr. high graduation

Circa 1956

In high school

The music you should be hearing when you open this page was recorded by our OHS orchestra, conducted by our music teacher, Allan Segal, at a concert in February 1960 and features Jim on lead trumpet. (The same selection ¾ from the Broadway show, Gigi ¾ was also played at our graduation exercises in June,)


Jim gave me this souvenir album recording
of this 1960 high school concert.

A typical reaction of our Sailor classmates to Jim's sudden passing came from our fraternity brother, Bob Rubin, who wrote,

"My condolences to all who were so close to Jim.  I knew him for a short time and realized how special he was. Smart, talented, and more handsome than any of us."

Upon viewing an earlier version of this page, Bob added:

Wow! What a full and meaningful life. He obviously knew life was precious and filled his life with love, creativity, passion, family and joy."

Jim and his beloved wife of 57 years, Esther. raised two children, David and Margot, and had six grandchildren. Jim is also survived by his loving brother, Richard (better known as Dick, OHS '62). Although most of the family photos and some others shown below were provided by son, David, Dick is the source of much of the textual content of this page.

Jim was a fan of this website and was happy to attend our 30-year class reunion
— probably the last time I saw him

Seen here in 1990 with two of our most beautiful classmates, Linda Strauss and Doreen Silverstein.

WHO HE WAS:  Throughout the 66 years I knew him, Jim was always a genuinely likeable guy — kind and respectful to everyone. He will always be remembered as an empathetic and ethical, sensitive, generous, caring and loving man. I just don't have enough adjectives to describe my friend, Jim Heitler.

After Jim's passing, neighbors in Michigan wrote this observation about their first encounter with the Heitlers in 1989:

"... we noticed this one couple that took walks, hand in hand, most every evening. How sweet it was to meet Jim and Esther — neighbors with constant smiles and friendly waves."

Jim had a a terrific sense of humor and a lifelong joie de vivre, characterized by love of nature, travel, politics, food, fine arts, family and friends, for whom he was a constant source of strength and support. But other than family, music, for sure, was his deepest passion.

And as you can see in the picture above, what great hair he had!

As is evident in many of the photos that follow, Jim was also a devoted family man, who deeply loved, and was deeply loved by, Esther and all of their many family members.

After high school, Jim attended undergraduate school at Antioch College in Ohio where he met, and in 1963 married, Esther. At Antioch, he took up the guitar and folk singing with a trio of college friends who called themselves The Davis Street Wanderers .




U. of M.
Department of Psychology

After being graduated from Antioch, Jim went on to earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Michigan, and for the rest of their lives, he and Esther remained in Ann Arbor. There, they raised their two children, David and Margot.  Jim joined the faculty of U. of M. while he grew his private practice as a clinical psychologist. He then continued on the adjunct faculty for 22 years.  A professional colleague said, Jim "was respectful of his patients."

In his retirement, Jim and Esther divided their time between their primary home in Ann Arbor, and two vacation homes in Longboat Key, Florida, and picturesque Arbois in the heart of wine country in eastern France, where they remodeled and maintained a beautiful, 250-year old, stone house. 

While living and working in Michigan, Jim's undiminished love for music brought him back to the trumpet, and for many years, he played classical music with the amateur Ann Arbor Brass Quintet. But sadly, in 2012, Jim was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, which ended his ability to play. So he then turned to another of his many talents, and he became an avid and prolific watercolor artist.

The artist at work (December 2019)


Samples of Jim's beautiful watercolors
Scenes near the Heitlers' place in France


Biking in France (2009)


At age 47 in about 1990 (look at all that hair!)


And still good-lookin' at age 66!


Surrounded by women! (November 2018)


Jim and Dick were extremely fortunate that their loving parents, Florence and George (both of whom I remember fondly from our Oceanside days), remained remarkably healthy and vibrant almost throughout their long lives until both passed a month apart in 2017 at ages 97 and 101, respectively. (In fact, George Heitler played tennis until he was 99.)

Above: celebrating Florence's 90th birthday with George in 2009
(Jim's hair must have come from Florence!)
Below: a group of family Thanksgivings between 2010 and 2018






More photos with brother, Dick:



Photos with Esther:




with two grandbabies (David's twins):


and with son, David:


Esther with daughter, Margot:


More photos with Margot:

November 2010                                                                                                       May 2017


with Margot's beautiful daughter:

Pinellas Park Florida 33782

More photos with David:


“If music be the food of love, play on.”
William Shakespeare


Jim's son, David, fully embraced his Dad's passion for music in choosing his career as a musician, songwriter and teacher of music. He wrote and recorded a very moving musical memorial tribute to Jim called "Big Shoes to Fill," a heartfelt expression of the deep love and admiration of a son for his Dad. Click here to listen (and turn the volume up).

In December 2020, in recognition of his late Dad's 78th birthday, David also made a 12-minute memorial musical video slideshow in which Jim and Esther's joie de vivre and love for family are most palpable. The slideshow features some of the foregoing photos and many, many more and a soundtrack of some of Jim's (and David's) music and voices. The soundtrack ends most appropriately with David's performance of his composition entitled "Family Harmony." Click here to view and listen on YouTube. (Watch for photos of Jim and Dick as boys in front of their Oceanside home.)


Come back to this special memorial page now and then when you are thinking of Jim or to see if anything has been added. And if you would like to add anything about Jim, please write me.

Classmates and other visitors are invited to submit material for a special
memorial page like this for any other departed classmate. Just e-mail it to me.


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