Fayette County recently lost a longtime, revered resident and medical professional — Robert A. Heiny, M.D. — who served the community with his family practice and as deputy coroner for many years.
Dr. Heiny — who passed away April 5 — was born April 20, 1929, in Columbus to Ernest and Martha Manring Heiny.
He was a 1947 graduate of Hamilton Township High School in Columbus where he played on the 1947 state championship baseball team. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from The Ohio State University in 1951, and played on The Ohio State University baseball team during the 1947-50 seasons. He was a member and past president of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. He received his Doctorate of Medicine in 1955 from The Ohio State University College of Medicine and was a member of Phi Chi medical fraternity.
“I always knew my dad was someone special and had an important job when I was growing up,” Dr. Heiny’s daughter, Jill Heiny Cipra, said. “Everywhere we went in town, people would come up to us to say hi to dad, and talk about how he had helped them. He used to take us along on his house calls and we would wait in the car for him. We still have the bag he used to take on those calls, and for me it’s very special. One of the reasons I became a nurse was because of him. Even as an adult, when I came back into town to visit my family, there was never a time that we did not get stopped by someone wanting to say hi to Dr. Heiny. Usually it was someone who said they had delivered their children. He and his partner, Dr. Ralph Gebhart, delivered 6,000 babies in their careers combined.”
Dr. Heiny served from 1956-1958 in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean Conflict, and following his discharge as a captain, he moved to Washington Court House where he began his family medical practice with Dr. Ralph Gebhart in 1958. He continued his medical practice in Washington Court House until his retirement in 1994. He served as Fayette County Deputy Coroner from 1959-1994.
“It feels impossible to put into words how you feel about someone once they pass. Hard to really do the person justice in words…but I’ll try,” one of Dr. Heiny’s grandchildren, Kirstin Heiny West, said. “He would have been 91 on April 20th. He lived a long, happy life. He was loved dearly by his family, and cared deeply for by many others, especially in his community. He delivered (babies) and doctored thousands of people. He could carry on a conversation with any stranger. He taught me to work hard, love people and that family always comes first. He was always cracking jokes or making people smile even up until the end. I’d always ask him if ‘he was behaving himself?’ And he’d always reply with ‘What fun is that?’ If you knew him, you loved him. He’d want me to not forget to mention his better half, my grandmother. She cared for their four children, supported his career and loved and cared for him up until his last day. I know he’d say that he is part of who he is because of her. Her strength is amazing and the love between them is inspiring. I have been blessed with many strong men/role models in my life and he is one of the biggest. I will never take for granted the relationship we had, because I know not many get to have that with their grandparents. It was unique and special and beautiful. I will always miss you gramps, and I’ll do my best to carry your light and love of life on. Love you always.”
“(When my grandfather passed it) was an emotionally confusing day for my family,” another one of Dr. Heiny’s grandchildren, Erin Heiny, said. “We celebrated two lives in very different ways. Wishing my strong, loving, beautiful grandma a happy birthday while feeling the loss of my amazing, funny, inspiring grandpa. These two mean so much to me. They’ve shown me what true love looks like. Watching my grandma be so strong these past few years for the man she’s spent her life with is the definition of love. My grandma is our rock. Grandpa Heiny would be the first to tell you how lucky he was to be with her. She keeps this family together and my heart breaks for her loss the most. My grandpa always made sure I knew I was beautiful. From letting me paint his nails to burying him in the sand and making him into a mermaid, he was up for anything to put a smile on my face. It’s not a coincidence my unicorn is named Bob. He leaves behind a magical legacy of bringing so many babies into this world as Dr. Heiny and making the best scones you’ll ever have as my grandpa. No matter how long you have to mentally and emotionally prepare for loss, the void still hits hard. There will always be the feeling of not having enough time, but amidst all the craziness I chose to be grateful for the love I was blessed to receive from this man and the love I continue to receive from my amazing grandma. You can rest in peace now grandpa. I’ll miss you every day.”
He was a member and former elder of the First Presbyterian Church; a member of the American, Ohio and Fayette County Medical Associations; was a former member of the Kiwanis Club of Washington Court House and had served as president of the Fayette Board of DD, Fayette County Board of Health and the Fayette County Heart Association. In 2011, he was inducted into the Central Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame.
“I had the privilege of working with Dr. Heiny once he retired from his family practice as he helped me with the start up of Business Health Services at FCMH,” Tammie Wilson, chief nursing officer, said. “During this time I was able to see how this man respected everyone from his peers, nurses and his patients. He always praised the entire medical team of nurses and all ancillary services, as he said they were the people that made his job easier as a physician. He was such a caring human being. He treated me with respect every single day. Additionally, he took a personal interest with my kids. He cheered them on at sporting events and in their academics. His compassion for others showed every day. I will never forget the day he told me he went to Wendy’s to eat and when they were going to give him the senior discount, he told them no and to give it to the young couple with two kids behind him as the discount was set up wrong. The young families need a discount more than him. It is truly hard to put into words how incredible Dr Heiny was to others.”
Finally, local resident and longtime nurse who worked with Dr. Heiny for years — Mary Kay West — recently talked about the doctor and shared some memories from their time working together.
“I knew Dr. Heiny as a gentleman, friendly, somewhat laid back, knew his limitations, community-minded, never saw him angry, nor heard him complain,” West said. “He loved sports, particularly the Buckeyes and baseball. Even when their office burnt down, he never lost stride. They relocated to the former butcher shop on East Temple Street. Mrs. Heiny helped to hang sheets between cots for privacy. He welcomed staff to his home for cook-outs and parties. Dr. Heiny respected nurses and valued our opinions. I’m not saying he always agreed with us. Dr. Heiny treated the whole person. He also performed minor surgery. He delivered babies, one of which was his caregiver in his past few weeks. As I remember him, he was the picture of the old doctor, with his hat on and black bag making house calls. Dr. Heiny was the last of many early physicians who gave FCMH and our community the respect throughout the entire state of Ohio. He and his cohorts graced our community with their untiring dedication to humanity. God-speed Dr. Heiny, our teacher, mentor, and friend. We were so blessed.”