Rosalie Heller, 1931-2016: Santa Fe Living Treasure had passion for music, love for Los Alamos

December 6, 2016

Rosalie Heller, a classical pianist who served as artistic director of the Los Alamos Concert Association, hosted a weekly classical music radio show and was named a Santa Fe Living Treasure in 1989, died Friday at her home in Los Alamos of natural causes, the family said. She was 85.

Though music teachers at Brooklyn College in New York City warned Heller in the late 1940s that Los Alamos was a musical wasteland, she liked to say that she was determined to move there after reading about the role the city played in the making of the atomic bomb.

“I think she saw bringing classical music into Northern New Mexico as a fun challenge,” Heller’s son Tony said Monday. “Music was her passion. She just did it her entire life.”

Rosalie Heller was born in Brooklyn in 1931. In an interview for a Living Treasures article in 1989, she said her older brother Arthur turned her on to classical music by playing Brahms’s First Symphony over and over again on his phonograph when she was a girl.

“I thought it was the most wonderful sound I had ever heard in my life,” she said in the article. “My mother played the piano. She gave me my first music lessons.”

It was brother Arthur who also set her onto the mystery of Los Alamos after he showed her a newspaper report on the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in August 1945. The bomb was developed at what is now Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“The concept of a secret city in New Mexico somehow just fascinated her and left her with a real desire to find out about it,” said her husband, Leon.

She had to wait more than a decade to fulfill her dream of moving to Los Alamos. The Hellers married after meeting at Ithaca College in New York and in 1956, he got a job as a physicist at Los Alamos lab. The couple raised three children: Tony, Peter and Jean, all of whom survive their mother.

“I think she enjoyed the isolation where it was somewhat peaceful and quiet after growing up in Brooklyn,” Tony Heller said of his mother’s love of Los Alamos.

After a bout with rheumatoid arthritis curtailed her career as a pianist in the mid-1990s, Rosalie Heller displayed her love of classical music with a radio show called Excursions in Classical Music. It ran Sunday afternoons on KRSN 1490 AM for 12 years.

Gilligan Sutton, owner of KRSN, said Heller picked a different theme for each show, which she prerecorded.

“She loved doing the show,” Sutton said. “It gave her a way to continue to share her knowledge of classical music, which was really broad and deep.”

The station broadcast Heller’s final show Sunday, Sutton said.

The family is not planning a memorial service.

Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.