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September 25, 2003

Obituary: Frederick A. Hetzel

Frederick A. Hetzel, under whose leadership the University of Pittsburgh Press expanded its output of scholarly works as well as books for general readers, died on Sept. 13, 2003, at age 73.

He died of complications from rheumatoid arthritis.

Hetzel retired in 1994 after 30 years as the press’s director. Pitt’s press was publishing about 20 books a year and maintaining approximately 100 other titles in print when Hetzel took over as director. When he retired, the press was publishing an average of 50 books a year, with a backlist of about 500.

Provost James Maher said, “Fred had a superb ability to work with authors and to publish books that matched the strengths of our academic programs. For instance, he developed the Pitt Poetry Series, one of the best poetry series in the country, at least partially in support of our writing program. Fred also had a wonderful Latin American series to complement our very strong program in Latin American studies.”

In addition, Hetzel expanded the Pitt press’s western Pennsylvania series with such popular (and profitable) books as “Out of This Furnace,” a re-publication of Thomas Bell’s 1940s novel about the Slovak immigrant experience in industrial Pittsburgh; reprints of Andrew Wall’s biography of Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Mellon’s memoirs; John Hoerr’s “And the Wolf Finally Came: The Decline of the American Steel Industry,” and Arthur Smith’s photo volume, “Pittsburgh Then and Now.”

In 1981, Hetzel oversaw the launching of two high-profile literary prizes: the Drue Heinz Literature Prize for short fiction and the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize.

The latter, named after Hetzel’s predecessor as press director, recognizes a poet’s first collection with a $5,000 prize and publication by the press. The Drue Heinz prize, named after the widow of H.J. Heinz II and funded by a $1 million endowment from her in Hetzel’s name, provides a $15,000 prize and publication.

Hetzel “was one of the most courageous and talented men I have ever met,” Drue Heinz said in a statement. “He was a leader but very gentle. He taught me a great deal about how to work with people. He was a great guide, mentor and friend.”

Ed Ochester, a Pitt professor emeritus of English who supervises the Drue Heinz prize and the Pitt Poetry Series, called Hetzel “one of the last true gentlemen, in the best sense of that word. Fred could make tough decisions and he knew what he wanted, but he also had a gift for working with people and a real concern for the welfare of his staff.

“One of the things I loved about having him for a boss was that when he did not know something, instead of trying to bluff it through he would seek advice from people who were familiar with that subject area,” Ochester said. “Fred was a very hard person to dislike.”

Hetzel was “highly cultured and extraordinarily well-read,” said Ochester, but admitted to having a blind spot for poetry.

“It’s not that he actually disliked poetry, he just didn’t read it for pleasure. It would always amuse me to see Fred’s amazement, and his delight, when the press’s poetry books would out-sell most of the press’s other books.”

A Connellsville native, Hetzel earned degrees from Washington and Jefferson College and the University of Virginia. He was an associate editor at the Institute for Early American History and Culture before coming to Pitt in 1961.

Hetzel is survived by his wife, Nancy; daughters Jean Hetzel, Emily Hetzel and Jennifer Hetzel Gear; son Frederick A. Hetzel Jr., and seven grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Carnegie Free Library of Connellsville, 275 S. Pittsburgh St., Connellsville, Pa. 15425.
—Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 36 Issue 3

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