Until the end of his life, composer and musician Ralph Victor Heino Sr. remained passionate about the arts. Mr. Heino, best-known for his 40-year career with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, died July 26, after suffering a stroke the week before. He was 91.

Share story

Until the end of his life, Seattle composer and musician Ralph Victor Heino Sr. remained passionate about the arts.

He would take walks with his son, Ralph Heino Jr., to the Alki Bathhouse Art Studio, where he watched artists paint and sculpt. At his nursing home, Providence Mount St. Vincent in West Seattle, he attended poetry readings and greeted people by singing Finnish folk songs, Ralph Heino Jr. said.

“He loved life. And he loved music.”

Mr. Heino, best known for his 40-year career with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, died July 26, after suffering a stroke the week before. He was 91.

His family remembers him as a loving father and grandfather, whose devotion to music lasted until his death.

“He was just an amazing guy,” said his grandson Erik Heino. “He just led an amazing life as a musician and he was a great father and grandfather at the same time.”

When he retired from the Symphony, he continued to play his violin “every single day until he had a stroke,” he said.

Mr. Heino was born May 2, 1917, to Victor and Lydia Heino in Butte, Mont. His parents were Finnish immigrants, and he grew up speaking Finnish as his first language. When he was a child, his friends used to teach him Italian, much to the confusion of his parents, who didn’t know what language their son was speaking, Ralph Heino Jr. said. His Finnish background would later influence his music, infusing his art with Finnish folk themes.

The family moved to Aberdeen after the health of Victor Heino, a miner, began to deteriorate. The family patriarch switched professions and became a barber in the area.

Mr. Heino attended Grays Harbor Community College, the University of Washington in Seattle and Cornish College of the Arts.

He served in the U.S. Army Airforce in World War II, when he was stationed in San Antonio, Texas, and it was there that he met his future wife, Eleanor Luetcke, a playwright and active member of local theater groups. They were married in 1943 and had one son.

The family always owned between two and five cats, Ralph Heino Jr. said, and Eleanor became known as the Cat Lady of West Seattle. Her husband shared her fondness for the animals, and when he would play violin, “there would be cats on his back, on his shoulders, on his lap,” Ralph Heino Jr. said.

After World War II, Mr. Heino joined the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra and later the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. As he was an award-winning composer, the Seattle Symphony would feature his work while on tour.

Mr. Heino also worked as a longshoreman, loved to fish, wrote poetry, created wood sculptures and painted and exhibited his work around Seattle.

“He was an extremely creative individual,” Ralph Heino Jr. said. “He was very passionate about life and very passionate about people, too, especially … people who were less fortunate,” donating to charities whenever he could.

Mr. Heino is preceded in death by his wife Eleanor, who died in 1995. In addition to his son, he is survived by his grandson Erik Heino, his granddaughter Kaari Misclevitz, his step-grandson Jeffrey Yeates and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at Lakeview Cemetery at 2 p.m. and at 3:30 p.m. at Providence Mount St. Vincent on Saturday, Aug. 9.

Arla Shephard: 206-515-5632 or ashephard@seattletimes.com