Edwin “Ted” Heffernan, MD, died unexpectedly on January 23, 2008, as a result of a congenital heart defect at his home in Anchorage, AK. At the time, he was serving as director of the palliative care department at Providence Alaska Medical Center.
My first encounters with Ted are lost in the shrouds of memory, but we became close friends during my time at Amherst—a friendship that was solidified for life by a cross-country bicycle trip soon after my graduation.
Ted grew up in Skaneateles, NY, and was part of a large and loving family (with five siblings). He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy. At Amherst, he earned a BA in religious studies. He received his medical training from the Univ. of Vermont. In 1978, Ted married Patricia Sullivan. They had two sons, Rian and Paul, whom they raised in San Diego.
His career in medicine, infectious disease research, and teaching spanned more than thirty years. During that time, he served as head of infectious disease at the naval hospital in Oakland, a research fellow at the Univ. of California at San Diego School of Medicine and director of graduate medical education at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, where he started the first palliative service in the Scripps Hospital system.
In 2005, Ted remarried and moved to Alaska to live with his wife, Cristy Willer, and her two daughters, Ulu and Rachel. At Providence Alaska Medical Center, he began the palliative care department, serving as its director. He also created the first medical fellowship in this specialty in the state.
Ted’s interests were wide and varied, growing out of a passionate thirst for knowledge in politics, the arts, the natural world, sports, and spirituality. I was very fortunate to be already living in San Diego when he moved here, and we resumed our friendship, sharing a deep love of literature as well as an abiding faith in the fortunes of the San Diego Padres. Ted was a fervent advocate for many liberal political causes and a passionate opponent of the war in Iraq. He also became deeply involved in the practice of Buddhism, participating in retreats in the US and in a spiritual quest to Tibet.
In the summer of 1975, Ted and I decided—in the haphazard folly of two Amherst College graduates in their early twenties—to embark on a marathon bicycle trip. We spent a couple weeks “preparing” in and around his family home in Kennebunk, ME, before setting out on our adventure. The first two weeks, during which we struggled to negotiate the rolling hills of New Hampshire and Vermont, nearly broke our spirits (we were nowhere as physically prepared as we should have been), but we successfully made our way to Montreal. From there we took a train across the heartland of Canada and disembarked in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Our passage through British Columbia, Washington state, and Oregon changed everything. At the outset, we were near total collapse after cycling a mere thirty or so miles a day. But in the latter part of the journey, as we trekked across hundreds of miles of varying topography—through the Yakima Indian reservation, the sand dunes of Oregon, the peaks and valleys of northern California—Ted and I were transformed. Soon we were cycling up to (and sometimes more than) one hundred miles a day, a physical feat never again duplicated in my life. During that time, we camped out in barns, fields, apple orchards, the side of the road, meeting a vast array of people on our quixotic journey. It was, for both of us, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I was by no means alone in valuing Ted’s friendship. He made many such friendships during his lifetime, and he will be greatly missed by all.
—Lee Polevoi ’74