Grant Heilman passed away on Tuesday, February 25 at his home in Buena Vista, Colorado, following a brief illness. He was born in 1919, in Tarentum, Pennsylvania. He had a wonderful small town bringing up, and loved small town living his entire life. He could stand large cities for as much as a week at a time.
He attended the Academy of the New Church in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, and then Swarthmore College, from which he graduated in 1941. He remained a supporter of Swarthmore during his lifetime, and felt they had given him a wonderful education and lifelong friends. His education was furthered through military service in World War II. He was drafted as a private in September of 1941, was demobilized as a Captain in November of 1945, spending almost four years overseas. After Pearl Harbor he talked the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps into accepting him as a Special Agent. From then on he was sometimes in uniform, sometimes in civilian clothes. Shipped to England in June of 1942, he worked mostly in London, partly as a liaison officer with Scotland Yard.
He went to Algeria, North Africa, in the invasion of November 1942 and eventually became Detachment Commander of the CIC operation in Oran, Algeria. Most of his work gradually became acting as liaison with the French civilian and military counter intelligence forces. With the invasion of southern France he moved to the Counter Intelligence staff of the Sixth Army Group, and his work there, again, was mostly as liaison with the First French Army’s counter intelligence, which had come from Algeria to France. His most publicized activity in France was in early 1945, heading up a team of French and American counter intelligence agents ordered to recover America’s most secret cipher machine, the SIGABA—and to find out who had stolen it. It had been stolen from the U.S. Army’s 28th division near Colmar, in Alsace. The story of its recovery has been widely written up over the years, though who was really responsible for its theft has never been told. Grant was awarded both the American Bronze Star and the French Croix de Guerre for his work on the missing SIGABA. He was also made an honorary Private First Class in the French Foreign Legion while he was in Algeria. He finished his military career doing staff counter intelligence work at the US Group Control Council in Berlin, where he continued liaison with the French and the British counter intelligence and, when they could be found, the Russians.
Following his military service he returned to Pennsylvania, where he had grown up, decided he’d had enough of intrigue and avoided going into the fledgling CIA, which many of his fellow counter intelligence agents continued their careers in.
In 1946 he married Marjorie Mapel, a sculptor, print maker, and industrial designer. He started work as a magazine journalist, gradually specializing in agricultural subjects, doing both writing and photography. In 1948, he founded the photographic stock agency that still bears his name and is located in Lititz, Pennsylvania. He lived in Lititz for thirty years, becoming a devoted advocate for conservation and preservation of open space. Grant was a Nationally known and respected photographer covering the Country taking photos of our lands. Grant believed in and was an active supporter of the photographic and agriculture community and industry organizations having two National Presidents of the PACA (Picture Archive Council of America trade association) on staff. He was involved in the National AgriMarketing Association, America Agricultural Editors Association, The Agriculture Relations Council, American Society of Picture Professionals, American Society of Magazine Photographers and many others. He retired as CEO from Grant Heilman Photography in 2011. His writing or photographs have appeared in almost every publication, and in dozens of textbooks. He has authored, both text and photographs, a number of books, best known of which are Farm Town and Farm. In 2012 he self published a western novel, Krieger. He and Marjorie had one child, Hans, born in 1957. Marjorie died in 1961. Grant married a Swarthmore College classmate, Barbara Whipple, who was also a printmaker and field editor of American. Artist Magazine Barbara and Grant moved from Lititz, Pennsylvania, to Buena Vista, Colorado, in 1976 and lived together there until Barbara’s death in 1989.
In 1994 Grant married Conrad W. Nelson, a neighbor and longtime friend from Pennsylvania, and she moved to Buena Vista. Conrad is also a printmaker, photographer, and community leader. Obviously, during his lifetime, Grant learned a lot about, had a great interest in, and loved, art. With Barbara Whipple he was one of the founders of the Chaffee County Council on the Arts. After Barbara Whipple’s death in 1989 most of their collection of prints and paintings was given to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
He had a longtime interest in land use planning, enjoyed hiking and the outdoors, particularly in studying and improving the forest that surrounded his and Conrad Nelson’s home west of Buena Vista. Above all, he just had a great time being involved in small town activities, and Buenie, with all its wonders and all its problems, remained the ultimate small town that suited him well. He found fun in going to the Post Office every morning, getting lunch at Punky’s, going out to the college, and being fortunate to be able to have helped fund everything from the Clinic, to the schools, to the Barbara Whipple Trail, and to a lot of small activities that no one but the recipients know about.
He is survived by his wife, Conrad Nelson; his son, Hans, a granddaughter Jorie Beth, and two step daughters, Kate Schilling, of Silver City, New Mexico, and Chris Schilling, of Boise, Idaho. Contributions may be made to Hospice, Chaffee County, The Nature Conservancy of Colorado. Private cremation was held. Service to be held at a later date.
The Grant Heilman Agency can be found here.