It's about two in the afternoon on a sunny August day on Funen, the second-largest of Danish islands, as I pull up at Peter Heeschen's farmhouse on the outskirts of Odense. I walk from the rented car into the courtyard created by his house and barns, the paved terrace and flower gardens dappled with sunlight filtered through vines that climb arched trellises overhead, partially enclosing the space. I start poking my head through open doors, looking for Peter. The distinction between inside and outside is fuzzy in Peter's summer life, so there are few contextual cues for where he might be. First the workshop, then one of the barns, then the house. And eventually there he is. In the kitchen, with a huge grin on his face. In dirty jeans and an only marginally cleaner shirt. Holding a pipe that he'd made himself, that he also hadn't cleaned since he made it. He's been making pipes. Or cooking. Or gardening. Or some combination of the three, judging by the state of his clothes, going from one to the other seamlessly, as different parts of a whole life full of things to be done, but done with joy and good cheer. And after a few moments of chatting, I know he'll hand me potatoes to clean, or pipes to polish. For a single day each year, I fall into Peter's life.
That is how I will remember my dear friend, Peter Heeschen. Peter passed away unexpectedly during the night of November 28th, following a full day spent with friends. He was seventy. While he had previously made pipes, the incarnation of Peter Heeschen the pipe maker that we all knew and loved came about fairly late in life, at 53. He was largely self-taught, having spent most of his career as a social worker. Peter's body of work as a pipe maker is inextricably linked to Peter, the man. His pipes were in many respects a reflection of himself: playful, yet practical. He was a craftsman in much the same way that he was a husband, father and friend. His pipes, like Peter himself, are charming, warm, and beautiful, yet also pragmatic, unassuming and straightforward.
I started working with Peter in early 2003, after meeting him in person in Newark, NJ at the New York pipe show that March. In many respects our careers at that time, though found at very different points in our respective lives, paralleled each other. Peter's pipes were still fairly new to the global market, and Smokingpipes.com was in its infancy in those days.
Peter often spoke of how lucky he felt to have found such a home in the pipe community, and of how it gave him the opportunity to travel the world: to the United States, to Cuba, to Malaysia, and to Japan. More than the travel alone though, Peter felt lucky to find friends all over the world. He could go to the Carolinas or California in the US, and have friends to visit and stay with; the same was true across Asia. Through his pipe making, his life became broader, part of a community of pipe makers and pipe enthusiasts that spanned the globe.
In April of 2011 Peter came to Charleston, SC for my wedding to Alyson. We hadn't invited pipe makers from outside of the US, not wanting to unduly burden them with an invitation to an event thousands of miles from home, but when Peter heard the news of our impending union, he had simply asked when the wedding would be and told me he'd be there. He flew into Myrtle Beach, riding down to Charleston with Ted Swearingen, Adam Davidson and their wives Shelly and Lera. He came, he gave an impromptu speech; a speech that is still fondly remembered by many of us five years later, and he charmed all. He even wore a tie.
The pipe community will miss Peter, both for his pipes and for his friendship. I will miss my friend, 'Uncle' Peter Heeschen. Peter's wife Kirsten left us in 2009, and he is survived by his three children, Silie, Sofus, and Frederik.