William “Billy” Joseph Heimlich

August 26th, 2020

William “Billy” Joseph Heimlich of West Dennis, formerly of Woburn, died peacefully at his adored home “Elmwood” surrounded by his family on August 22, 2020.

He is the beloved husband of Joan (Tracy) Heimlich and father of five daughters: Jayne (Mark) Conroy of West Dennis; Beth (David) Smith of Wellesley; Julie (Robert) Kiely of Ipswich; Jennifer (Thomas) Conaty of Wilmington, DE; and Ellyn (Robert) Hurd of Marion. He was the proud grandfather of Mildred Conroy, Eli Smith, Eleanor Conroy, Asa Smith, June Kiely, Louise Conaty, Ian Smith, Joan Kiely, Veronica Smith, William “Will” Hurd, Thomas Conaty V, Peter Hurd II, and Frederick “Fritz” Conaty. He was the son of the late Wilhelm Friedrich and Hedwig (Scholz) Heimlich, brother of the late Alexander Heimlich, Oscar Heimlich and Gertrude Uzdavinis.

Billy was born on June 13, 1931 in Woburn, MA attending Saint Charles Borromeo grade school and graduating from Woburn High School. He was a stand-out athlete, and in 1947 was named by the Boston Post, Boston Globe and Boston Traveler to each of their All-Scholastic Football teams. He was also a member of the Massachusetts All Stars Football Team, the Boston Suburban All Stars Football Team and the Boston Globe’s All Class Team. He was inducted into the Woburn High Athletic Hall of Fame. He continued his academic and football career at Kimball Union Academy. He adored his time at Kimball Union. He went on to play football at Georgia Tech, Boston University, and ultimately graduating from Lowell Technical Institute with an engineering degree.

His engineering career was focused on the leather industry and he knew the ins and outs of every tannery in the USA. He was Head Engineer for Murray Leather, John J. Riley Company, and Woburn Machine Co. He also owned and operated Hjorth Lathe and Tool Company. He continued his career at his firm Heimlich Engineering, which allowed him to see and repair the world working and living in China, Bangladesh, Haiti, Mali, Columbia, and Mexico to name a few.

On June 29, 1957 he married the love of his life Joan Tracy and they recently celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary. Together they had five daughters over the next 20 years. He never missed an opportunity to refer to them as his “five beautiful daughters”. No matter how hard or dirty a job, Bill expected his daughters to pitch in and get it done. Together with Joan, they prioritized education and made many sacrifices to provide the best education to their daughters and grandchildren. Bill was also a former member of the Woburn Board of Aldermen, and a member and past President of the Woburn Kiwanis.

In 1968 he personally built a family cottage in West Dennis, Cape Cod. This decision was one of his best and cemented his love for Cape Cod. He joined the West Dennis Yacht Club (WDYC) where his family learned to sail on their Beetle Cat “Blitz Strahl” (WD100). He volunteered countless hours to the club, serving in every elected capacity including Commodore in 1979. His Steak Barbecue held every August was the hit of the summer. His WDYC friends were family.

In 1982, he purchased his adored property “Elmwood” on Grand Cove. This was a special place for him and over the years it became a family compound as his daughters purchased adjoining properties. He was a visionary gardener and spent countless hours tending to his infamous hedge, sprinkler system and roses. He hosted all five of his daughters’ wedding receptions and many more elaborate parties, including his annual and notorious Cape Cod clambake and his October Pig Roast.

Billy was an inventor, an engineer and an insatiable seeker of knowledge. He was a true Renaissance man. His curiosity was epic and he had an impressive aptitude for solving problems big and small. In the 1960s, he built a rope tow and an electronic race timer for a small ski hill in Woburn MA, so that children in the community could learn to ski and compete. In the 1970s, he received a call by a complete stranger in the middle of the night to fix the failed tank pumps at the New England Aquarium. He didn’t hesitate. Not only did he save the sea life at the aquarium, he brought along his school age daughters because he never missed an opportunity for them to learn. If a machine broke at a tannery anywhere in the world, chances are Bill Heimlich would be called in to fix it.

His work ethic was unparalleled and his physical strength superhuman. His most exceptional talent was connecting with people and forging lifelong trusted friendships throughout the world. He was the man who understood how everything worked and could design, build, and rebuild anything. Even in later years, he couldn’t be stopped. His golf cart had no boundaries and it was always welcome. Everyone wanted just a piece of his vast knowledge. He treated everyone with respect and no one was beneath him. He loved to ask questions. He was a champion of gender equality, was never afraid to speak his mind, including his strong political opinions, and he loved a good argument. He was a risk taker and fearless. He tirelessly taught his five daughters and thirteen grandchildren these values.

Above all, Billy was a giver. He would always accept a challenge to take on seemingly impossible tasks and find creative solutions. He never discussed how he helped others but you would always hear stories of his selfless acts. As a young boy in Woburn, he risked his life by running into the burning Greek Orthodox Church to save the contents of the tabernacle. He had a rare form of blood and was a lifelong blood donor. And he always made the most of his work travels. If he happened to be in a city or town where one of his friends’ aging parents lived, he would always drop by for a visit. He was a weekly food donor to homeless shelters across New England. If something needed doing, he just did it.

In lieu of flowers or donations, the family asks that you carry forward Billy’s greatest gifts – cherish your family and friends, always think before you speak, open your home to all, strive to understand how things work, appreciate the wonder of our world, and drink a Moxie.


15 Entries in Guest Book for “William “Billy” Joseph Heimlich”

  1. Patricia Rozett Tracy says:

    I have never read anything so beautifully beautifully written. I only wish my husband Richard (Joans brother) was here to read it. I shall love & miss them both endlessly

  2. Mark Jackowitz says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful and kind person. While we had limited visits at family get togethers, I always looked forward to getting Billy alone to learn some of his wisdom and lore.
    I expect good things with Billy on the “other side” now-he probably will be working on global warming in his new role.
    Rest In Peace Billy and know that you made a difference!

  3. Kathy kiely says:

    What a beautiful tribute to an amazing life well lived!

  4. Philip and sandy boudreau says:

    What a great tribute to “Billy”. We are so fortunate to be able
    To share many gatherings with him. Our favorite was his pig roast. We will miss him at the compound. What a great man.

  5. Don Laroche says:

    My heart has been heavy since learning of the death of Mr. Heimlich. He was certainly a positive force of nature. As a teen growing up in the WDYC family, along with my dad, he was a consistent influence in my life. As many Club families could attest, he was the catalyst for many projects that would benefit us all for generations to come. (i.e., Junior Yacht Club) As his Obit mentions, you could Always count on him for an opinion, and oh, he had them…

    The most lasting influence he had on me would have to be his innate confidence in his ability to create positive change. A lessen that has served me well.

    I can never forget his WDYC annual ski trips. I was always included, even well after I was in college. Thank you…

    He will be sorely missed. Definitely one of a kind. My memories of him will never pass.

  6. Christian Tracy says:

    When I think about Billy, what stands out to me most was his devotion to his family. A few years ago, I found myself sitting next to Billy at a family dinner in the dining room at Elmwood, and I recall him looking around the table and then to me and saying “family is what matters the most.” Throughout my childhood, I observed the passion and energy Billy put towards his close knit (but very large) family. Billy’s love for his family was so strong and far reaching that it will continue to thrive everyday with his wonderful family. When Billy told me that family matters the most, he meant it.

  7. Liz (Foley) Carracini says:

    Jen & Family,
    My deepest condolences for the loss of your father and husband. What an incredible man with so many beautiful qualities and wonderful talents. My thoughts and prayers are with you all during this difficult time. His spirit lives on in all of you.

  8. June and Jim McCloy says:

    So sorry for your loss of this wonderful man. We are sorry we never met him. ??????

  9. June and Jim McCloy says:

    So sorry for your loss.

  10. Michael & Julie Maher says:

    We are very sorry to hear of Bill’s passing. Your tribute to him was wonderfully written. I enjoyed Bill’s company as a Woburn Kiwanis member for many years. Julie and I always enjoyed talking with both Bill & Joan. I recall a conversation with him one Tuesday after he had taken the bus from the Cape to do some work here in Woburn, to which be commented that it was great to be able to sleep or read during the ride and still feel refreshed after arriving from the Cape for a days work. I’m sure you have many great memories to help you thru this time. He will be missed.

  11. Renee DeDecko says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with all of u at this difficult time. There is no doubt you will All always carry on his Legacy of family. Much Love

  12. Arthur Warren says:

    My sympathy to Joan and all Bill’s wonderful family.

    I lost a buddy, but Bill is now resting perhaps for the first time in his life.

    Everyone saw Bill the same way…working endlessly to fix broken machinery and always nurturing family and friends. No one I know worked harder than Bill at service to others while always inspiring hope.

    I best remember Bill’s wisdom rendered on a hot day in August. We were tending the sizzling, smoky fire pit, burning wood to create a bed of glowing embers to heat the rocks for Bill’s legendary Cape Cod Clam Bake. About 250 people were coming. “What a glorious time,” Bill said to me. “We are all family today!”

    Arthur Warren

  13. Judy Warren says:

    My love and condolences to all the members of Bill’s family. There is so much to say that Art and I are each submitting our thoughts.

    Bill was an inspiration. He so loved the times when all his family and friends were gathered. His eyes glowed with happiness and pride when he surveyed the crowd enjoying his Clam Bake, his Pig Roast, or his dining room table.

    Joan, you must be so sad and at the same time so proud of Bill and of the family you raised together.

    Jayne, Beth, Julie, Jennifer, and Ellyn, I hope you can all take solace in the fact that you stayed so close to your dad and shared your beautiful families with him.

    With love, Judy Warren

  14. Brad Tracy says:

    I always looked forward sitting down with Billy getting caught up with what ever was happening in the world. The times we had the opportunity we were always in the middle of his large family. He was so happy to be in the action.

  15. Sandy Newman Davidson says:

    Beth, I am Rick Newman’s sister. He died in April of 2018, but I know without a doubt if he were here, he would be sending his condolences. He admired your father so much. Didn’t he call him the General for taking such good care of his girls?
    You have our sincerest sympathy on the loss of your dad. But there are plenty of happy times to remember him by.
    Blessings to you and your family. Sandy

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