University Community

Celebration of Life Service to be held for David Heaton

A Celebration of Life service for Emeritus faculty member David Heaton, Ph.D. will be held on Saturday, March 30, 2024, from 2 - 4 p.m. at the Southeast Ohio History Center. Heaton, who passed away on Jan. 14, 2024, taught in the Ohio University English Department and also served as the Ohio University Ombudsman. All members of the OHIO community are invited to attend.

Following is the obituary about David Heaton, as posted on the Hughes Moquin Funeral Home website.

Athens - David was born in Pittsburgh, PA on July 24, 1935. He was preceded in death by his parents, Jack and Jean Heaton, and his elder brother, Jim. Before settling in Detroit, in 1952, he lived in seven cities and twelve houses or apartments. He loved sports as a kid, shooting hoops alone just feet from deep snow in a barn in Syracuse, New York and playing baseball every year as soon as the snow melted. As a sophomore he started on the Merchantville High School basketball team that he would help take to the New Jersey State Championships the next year. Then another move, to Detroit, where he knew no one. He spent the latesummer alone on an outdoor court near his home, honing skills. Basketball was a companion. He had a splendid season in 1952-53, playing for Cooley High School in the Detroit City League. He returned to sports in his early thirties, playing basketball in Ann Arbor and then handball and racquetball after his move to Athens. He played very successfully in many racquetball tournaments throughout Ohio and in 1980 he took second place in the Masters Division of the Ohio Racquetball State Championships, defeating the defending state champion in the semi finals before losing in the last match.

Though never a Roman Catholic, he chose the Jesuit University of Detroit for his undergraduate education. He had drifted into academic mediocrity and felt he needed a bit of the lash to enliven his mind. He majored in English and minored in philosophy and French. He was president of both the English and French Honorary Societies. He was a sociable person but maintained that he went to college only to become seriously educated. He loved to study and would be in either a classroom or the library day in and day out. He would eventually add an MA to the PhB he earned as an undergraduate. In the spring of 1959 one of his professors went to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh to create the doctoral program there. He asked David to come along with the rank of Instructor, which he did. He stayed two years and then took a doctoral fellowship at The University of Michigan in the fall of 1961.

He had a very deep belief in America’s public universities and found U of M to be a brilliant atmosphere. After two years in the English program he chose the Comparative Literature degree instead. In his third year at U of M he took three seminars in the French Department, passed the German examination and passed five doctoral exams, two in the English program, two in the French program and one on the Theory of Literature. He was then hired as a full time instructor in English and remained in Ann Arbor until receiving his doctorate and signing a contract with Ohio University in 1969. Through it all he had maintained and used his status as a Teamster, which originated in 1953.

From the outset until his retirement in 2004 David knew he had chosen the right department and university. He esteemed his colleagues in the Dept. of English, both those who became his friends and those he knew only professionally. He always felt himself to be in an exemplary literary and intellectual environment, one also marked by great collegiality. One of his first special responsibilities was to assist his friend and Renaissance scholar, Bernie Fieler, with the creation of the English Honors Tutorial Program. Later, when the university required a special fourth year interdisciplinary course for undergraduates, David created and taught the Tier 3 Holocaust Studies seminar. In the seventies David was Chair of the departmental Undergraduate Committee and in the nineties of the Graduate Committee. He published many essays and reviews about the work of modern poets and novelists. His love of the classroom and the seminar were always paramount in his academic life and he was kindly rewarded for it. He had won awards for his teaching at the University of Michigan, one from the Honors College, and four more followed at Ohio University. In 1972 he was given The Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (College of Arts and Sciences). In 1981 he was selected by the undergraduate students as University Professor. In 1993 he was given the Jenny Graselli Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Humanities. And in 1984 he was selected as the university’s Outstanding Graduate Professor.

David was also, for eight years in the eighties, the Ohio University Ombudsman. His tenure was rich in complex experience and he offered evaluation of his work to all parties involved. He directed these evaluations sight unseen to the Office of the Provost. He became well acquainted with ombudsmen all over the country and gave many presentations at national meetings. He was proud of being selected as the first recipient of the Pete Small Award for Excellence in the profession, an award given by the California Caucus of University and College Ombudsmen. He never forgot the wonderful help he got from his thoughtful assistant, Norma Arbaugh. Outside the university David was a forty year member of Klanwatch and The Southern Poverty Law Center. He was also, for well over a decade, President of the Southeast Ohio Chapter of the ACLU.

When he was young David thought that profound friendship, a form of love as he understood it, must be very limited. But as he aged he realized he had been blessed with more fine friends than was anyone’s due. He was blessed also with two wonderfully gifted children. Surpassing love came from his son and daughter, Chris and Carrie, and his extraordinary wife of 47 years, Jeanne. David and Jeanne always supported each other’s enterprises and felt they had just about mastered the claims in marriage for both connection and autonomy. Nor did David ever lose track of the exquisite motherhood of his first wife, Sandra Fellman. He was very proud of his stepchildren, Shannon O’Leary and Kevin MooreO’Leary, and grateful for their affection. The same was true for his grandchildren, John Heaton, Emma Heaton, Anna Heaton Schwartz and Izzy Moore O’Leary and Jules Moore O’Leary, all exemplary in their personal and professional lives. Others dear to him were Chris’s wife, Janet Lighthammer Heaton; Carrie’s partner, Rick Roaden; John’s wife,Molly Gerbasi Heaton; Anna’s husband, Parker Schwartz; and Kevin’s wife, Kara Moore O’Leary. As life waned there came his beautiful great grandchildren, Leah Yvonne Heaton and Chase David Heaton. And abidingly, there were his canine best pals, Oscar and Mister Smidgen.

Arrangements for cremation are with Hughes-Moquin Funeral Home in Athens, Ohio.  A Celebration of Life will be Saturday, March 30, 2024 from 2:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. at the Southeast Ohio History Center. Friends are invited to sign the online guestbook at  In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Southern Poverty Law Center, or HAPCAP or the local branch of Habitat for Humanity.

For additional information, please see the Hughes Moquin Funeral Home website.

March 28, 2024
Staff reports