Dr. Eric Heiden: A Life of Excellence

By Leslie Moore

Originally from the small South Carolina town, Lake City, Dr. Eric Heiden practiced dentistry for 54 years – the first 48 in Florence, and the last six in nearby Summerville. For most, thousands of happy patients would be enough, but Dr. Heiden is also Captain Heiden, a U.S. Coast Guard certified boat captain and fishing guide who still, at 82 years old, leads groups on fishing expeditions in Costa Rica. He is also a well known photographer and artist whose work is on display and for sale at several locations in the area. His lengthy list of awards and accomplishments are awe inspiring. Today, he and his wife, Rosa Lee, live in Pawleys Island, but are far from the typical retired couple. “I guess living in Pawleys Island is as close to God as I’ll ever get,” said Dr. Heiden laughing.

Photography means more to this artist than picturesque landscapes and family memories. “It was a calling,” he began. “I use photography to help me be more sensitive to my surroundings and observe things that most people overlook. Photography is a reflection of one’s creativity.” Dr. Heiden founded the Pee Dee Photographic Society in 1951 in Florence, and his name is well known in regional artistic circles. Locally, he is a member of Seacoast Artist Guild, and his work is displayed at the guild’s gallery in Market Common.

Even though Dr. Heiden has photographed scenes from some of the most beautiful places in the world, one of his favorite photo shoots occurred in the mid-1970s in Murrells Inlet, where he fished and played growing up. “At the end of the old government pier was a small bait stand where everyone bought bait to use on the pier,” Dr. Heiden remembers. “I kept seeing an old man in his little boat and became curious about him.” Captain Bill Hickman was a recluse who lived in his small boat and used money from bait sales to support himself. He had family in the area, but refused help, preferring his solitary existence. “People were a little nervous around Captain Bill,” Dr. Heiden continued. “Sometimes he would throw clam shells at people who bothered him. I wanted to photograph him so there would be a record of this remarkable man’s existence, but I wasn’t sure he would let me!”

The day Dr. Heiden approached Captain Bill about photographing him, the crusty old hermit at first flatly refused. Finally he agreed to the photo shoot if Dr. Heiden would bring him Cuban cigars and beer! “I didn’t know where to get the cigars, but a friend of mine helped me obtain a few. I took them and bought the beer, and when I went back Captain Bill was shocked!” The resulting photographs are the only memories of this Murrells Inlet legend and treasured by his friends and family. A part of the series is on display in the Sea Coast Gallery in Market Common.

Eric Heiden is one of those rare individuals who is passionate about life and excels at everything he sets out to do. A lifelong fisherman, Dr. Heiden has been Captain Heiden, a U.S. Coast Guard certified boat captain and an Eagle Claw Pro Staff Team member for decades. For years, one of his dreams was to be recognized in the Eagle Claw catalogue. “One day I received a phone call from a member of the Eagle Claw staff. They were in Georgetown and wanted to have lunch. I agreed and after the meal, they said they wanted to award me the first ever Eagle Claw Pro Staffer of the Year!” Dr. Heiden and his then fiancée, Rosa Lee, travelled to Colorado to accept the award and, yes, his dream came true – a photo of him holding a red snapper now appears in every Eagle Claw catalogue distributed worldwide.

Life hasn’t always been perfect for this outgoing gentleman. Rosa Lee is his second wife, and after he lost his wife of 54 years, Bari, Dr. Heiden went into a deep depression and ran away from life for over a year. “A dentist I knew from Summerville called me to come back and take over his practice,” Dr. Heiden remembers. He did return, and through work and the love of his three daughters, Mindy, Stacy and Robin, began to live and love again. Dr. Heiden’s strength of character and lifelong commitment to excellence began when he was a boy and growing up in Lake City. “We were one of the very few Jewish families in the area,” he told me. “And we were definitely discriminated against. I had to be the best at everything in order to achieve my goals.” These experiences led Dr. Heiden not only to excellence, but to a variety of philanthropic pursuits – he was a Dixie Youth Baseball Coach for over 30 years and has mentored many young artists. In 1972, Dr. Heiden was honored by the S.C. Jaycees with the Distinguished Service Award for his volunteer efforts, an award that was shared by Clebe McClary and Congressman Butler Derrick.

Today, at 82, Eric Heiden is as passionate as ever about his artistic pursuits. “My wife and I try to be sensitive to everything we see as we walk through life.” One of the most recent additions to his art are beautifully preserved oyster shells and whelks that the couple finds on local beaches. These gorgeous art pieces are now available for sale in the Brookgreen Gardens Gift Shop. “When you develop a hobby and become good enough to be recognized for it, that’s amazing.”

Local resident Peggy Stokes and her husband Dr. J Stokes have known Dr. Heiden for many years; they both lived in Florence and retired to our area. “If there is anything Eric wants to do he does it and does it well,” said Peggy. “He’s a very talented man.” Peggy and Dr. Heiden’s first wife, Bari, were good friends and spent many years working together developing the Cultural Council of Georgetown County.

With a charter boat tour to Costa Rica planned for 2018 and applications pending at several prominent art shows, there is no sign of Dr. Heiden slowing down. “When you do good things, somewhere along the line good things happen.”

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore

    Leslie Moore

    Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

4 Responses to “Dr. Eric Heiden: A Life of Excellence”

  1. Rose Ann says:

    Fascinating story; inspiring person!

  2. Nobia Jones Williams says:

    Enjoyed this story about Dr. Heiden. He became my dentist when I was four years old. He treated my entire family. He was a great dentist and a remarkable man. My Mother always told him that as long as she was living, he could not retire. My father was very ill and needed to have his teeth cleaned, He was not able to go into his office. Dr. Heiden and his daughter, Mindy, went to my parent’s house and cleaned my Dad’s teeth. I was so touched by his sincere concern for my Dad. I consider myself very lucky to have been one of his patients. I am so happy that your are still making pictures and catching lots of fish.

  3. Linda O'Connell says:

    Great coverage of an interesting man who is young at heart.

  4. Bob Angell says:

    My daughter and I have fished with the captain a few times and look forward to doing so again. Great article about a very interesting man. Keep on fishing !

Leave your mark with style

Comment in style

Stand out from the crowd and add some flare beside your comment.
Get your free Gravatar today!

Make it personal

avatar versus gravatar Close