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Vicki Lynn Heller



HELLER, Vicki Lynn. A lover of art, ceramics, romance languages, punny jokes, very hot showers, chamber music, interesting flavors and colors, the time of day when the light changes, French press coffee, and dark chocolate died March 29, 2024.

Vicki was born in Chicago on January 12, 1954 to Harry and Virginia Heller, two social workers, one of whom later became a physician, both of whom instilled in their daughters a love of art, a responsibility to care for others, and a fierce independence characteristic of women ahead of their time. The youngest of three sisters, Vicki was distinguished by the combination of her brilliant, creative, artistic, open mind and her magical warm spirit and pure kind heart.

After attending art school at the University of Michigan, she worked abroad in Italy where she lived above a meat and cheese shop and taught the butcher’s daughter English in exchange for money for rent. It was there where she forged ochre sculptures of Italian hill towns from stoneware clay, focal pieces adorning the shelves of her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Growing up, Vicki, often bored in school, would count down the remaining days in the school year until she could return to Interlochen Arts Camp for the summer. A lover of all things artistic, she starred in school plays and musicals, and despite having two left feet, enjoyed singing, dancing, and making music with her four sisters.

Vicki, a forger of her own path, did not necessarily follow, but rather walked alongside her father’s footstep, pursuing a secondary career in medicine after her time in Italy, obtaining medical education at Harvard Medical School.

During her 25 year long medical career as an OBGYN, she brought countless babies into the world and was a fierce advocate for women’s rights and educator about issues related to women’s health. When she was with patients, they knew they had her attention and no clinical worry was too small to raise. She was universally adored by her patients, many of whom would send pictures of their growing babies to her home with cards and chocolates during holiday times.

Vicki had a capacity for laser focus and yet kept an open mind and heart for observation of the broadest and the most abstract aspects of life and its wonders. Out to dinner with friends or at parties, Vicki was never one to dominate the conversation. She would be thoroughly engaged in listening and had a genuine curiosity about people and their stories and lives.

It was in the hospital where she met her husband of 37 years, Lee Cohen, a fellow physician, who asked her out during her first week as chief resident only to be told to reach her back at 2am (when she anticipated she would have a moment to talk on the phone).

What started from a three hour long date talking to one another that Vicki, on brand, arrived 15 minutes late to, flourished into a marriage in which their love grew over the course of 37 years together, built firmly on shared values of family, sustaining connection with close friends, and protecting time for the two of them. In the early days of their relationship, Vicki’s preferred mode of travel to the hospital was by bike; even at 2 in the morning when on call, a sleep deprived post call Vicki could be seen rolling up to the hospital on a bike.

After getting married in 1986, Vicki and Lee moved to the suburbs and Vicki traded her bike in for a car. Soon after, Vicki and Lee were overjoyed (and persistently sleep deprived) when they welcomed their two daughters, Eliza Anne Heller Cohen and Zoë Caroline Heller Cohen into the world. Vicki’s happiest times were spent with her family, in Boston and in Kennebunkport, Maine, a place which doubled as a sanctuary for their family. Vicki continued to feed her curious spirit, exploring and adventuring with her family in Maine. She fearlessly learned to ski the east coast icy hard pack as a thirty something year old who had never before set foot on a mountain. Weekends were spent with family, hiking, biking, sailing, and playing tennis. Vacation weeks were some of the most precious times for her family. Whether on safari in Tanzania or learning to make homemade pasta in Italy, (though, due to her love for improvisation, she could never ever make the exact same recipe twice), Vicki reveled in learning about other cultures and traveling the world with her crew. She would never miss an opportunity to learn how to say a phrase in another language upon meeting someone from any corner of the world, and was virtually fluent in English, Spanish, French, and Italian.

The relationships Vicki had with her family and with her friends were most important to her. At the age of 58, after a cancer diagnosis, she closed her practice of 25 years and returned to the art studio where she delighted in a community of quirky creatives and reconnected wholeheartedly to her identity as a sculptress. With a preference for hand-building over throwing pottery on the wheel, Vicki’s sculptures often depicted the human form and facial expressions. She believed that love and friendships between people were transcendent and magical; and she captured the human experience in her work. While she connected with this community somewhat later in life, over the final decade of her life, she developed some of her most cherished relationships with fellow artists from the Harvard Ceramics Studio, where she was a resident artist.

If Vicki was to become aware of someone in need, she would without hesitation offer her time, whether cooking a meal, or lending a hand. She had a need to feel productive and she was always active. Never one to focus on material things, she could often be found wearing a clay stained “make art” blue t shirt. When on airplanes or in the hospital, in lieu of disposing of used containers or cans, she would save them for repurposing in her art studio as storage containers, or for recycling at home.

Vicki and Lee’s love was ever an inspiration to family, friends, and others who were, or would be in love. Vicki’s heart grew as her family expanded when her daughter Eliza met Gregg Belbeck and they married in 2022. In Vicki’s final year of life, she became a grandmother to grandson Harrison Belbeck.

In September 2021, she received a diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer. A most resilient person and soul, having already fought through late stage ovarian cancer 10 years prior, as well as beaten another two separate cancers, she faced this diagnosis head on and underwent rigorous treatment with the goal of continuing to be well enough to make art and spend time with her family. To say her strength through this chapter was an inspiration to others is an understatement. With her natural sense of optimism and humor, she plodded through challenging days gracefully and with a smile on her face. The Heller Cohen family thanks the numerous doctors, nurses, therapists, aides, caregivers, cleaners, neighbors, friends, family members, who lifted Vicki’s spirits and kept her in their thoughts during this chapter.

She met this final diagnosis with resilience, strength, optimism, humor, and grace.

In addition to her immediate family, Vicki leaves many sisters and brothers-in-law (Marcy Heller Fisher, Robert Fisher (deceased), Wendy Fogel, Yehuda Fogel, Barbara Heller, Joel Weingarten (deceased), Mitchell Cohen, Janet Richer Cohen, Cindy Portnoff, Kevin Portnoff) nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and cousins whom she loved. She was predeceased by her mother and father, Virginia and Harry Heller.

If Vicki were here today, she would want us all to remember joyous moments together and to be kind to one another. We mourn the loss of this unique, loving, remarkable woman. Vicki’s life and love have been a blessing to her family and to all who were lucky enough to know her.

Vicki’s life will be celebrated on Monday April 1 at 11am at Temple Emanuel in Newton. A reception will follow. Memorial observance will be at the home of Marcy Heller Fisher in Bloomfield Hills, Wednesday, 7-9 pm.

In lieu of flowers please direct any gifts to the Harvard Ceramics Studio
and to the Dr David Ryan Fund / MGH Cancer Center.
Please specify that the gift is in honor of Vicki Heller.