Obituaries

Heidi Toffler, unsung force behind futurist books, dies at 89

Heidi Toffler spent years ignoring appeals from Alvin Toffler and her friends to take credit for her work publicly.
Associated Press/File 2002
Heidi Toffler spent years ignoring appeals from Alvin Toffler and her friends to take credit for her work publicly.

NEW YORK — Heidi Toffler, a researcher and editor who for decades served an essential though anonymous collaborative role alongside her celebrated husband, Alvin Toffler, in producing global best-selling books about the consequences of rapid change, died on Feb. 6 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 89.

Toffler Associates, the couple’s consulting firm, announced her death.

Though she was the unrecognized half of one of their era’s most acclaimed husband-wife writing teams, Heidi Toffler spent years ignoring appeals from Alvin Toffler and her friends to take credit for her work publicly.

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Their first book, “Future Shock” (1970), sold in the millions, was translated into dozens of languages and brought Alvin Toffler, who died in 2016, international fame.

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The book concluded that the convergence of accelerating scientific advances, broad capital investment, and new and far-reaching systems of mass communications was giving birth to a wholly new global society. It foresaw, among other things, the rise of personal computers, the Internet, cable television, and telecommuting.

Alvin Toffler dedicated “Future Shock” to her, their 16-year-old daughter, Karen, and his parents. In 1980, he dedicated “The Third Wave” solely to Heidi Toffler, adding that her “professionalism as an editor” was “reflected on every page.”

In 1990, in the preface to their third book, “Power Shift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century,” Alvin Toffler identified his wife as the coauthor and wrote, “The trilogy is as much hers as mine.”

“I don’t know where her brain ends and mine begins,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2006 for his obituary. “She brings a kind of skepticism that saved me many times from saying foolish things.

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It was not until the publication in 1993 of “War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century” that Heidi Toffler’s name appeared on the cover next to her husband’s, in the same size type.

She had by then changed her mind.

“The idea of having a byline didn’t really do anything for me,” she told the Times in 1993. “But each set of acknowledgments in each book was more effusive and fulsome. The feminist movement put a lot of pressure on me and said I was a very poor role model.

“And then men would come up and say, ‘We just wanted to tell you we think you have such a wonderful husband for giving you all that credit’ — implying that I wasn’t doing any work. That finally pushed me over the edge.”

She was credited as the coauthor of two more books with her husband, “Creating a New Civilization: The Politics of the Third Wave” (1995) and “Revolutionary Wealth: How It Will Be Created and How It Will Change Our Lives” (2006).

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Adelaide Elizabeth Farrell, an only child who acquired the nickname Heidi as a girl, was born on Aug. 1, 1929, and grew up in the Bronx, reared by her Dutch immigrant mother, Elizabeth Antonette Farrell, who worked for the telephone company, and her stepfather, William T. Farrell, who worked for the New York City subway system.

Known to be strong-minded, ferociously curious, and adventurous, Heidi graduated from Long Island University with a degree in English.

In 1948, while visiting a friend in Manhattan, she was introduced to her future husband, who was a year older and a student at New York University from Brooklyn.

Alvin graduated from NYU hoping to be a write. The couple decided to move to Cleveland and they were married there on April 29, 1950.

Their daughter and only child, Karen, was born in Cleveland in 1954. She died of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder, in 2000 at 46. Heidi Toffler leaves no immediate survivors.

Ms. Toffler helped her husband conceive the idea and central thesis of “Future Shock,” and, in his telling, was invaluable in framing every other book they produced.

“While the intensity of her involvement varied from time to time, depending on her other commitments,” Alvin Toffler wrote in the preface to “Power Shift,” “these books required travel, research, interviews with hundreds of people around the world, careful organization and drafting, followed by endless updating and revision, and Heidi took part at every stage.”

The Tofflers and a business consultant, Tom Johnson, formed Toffler Associates in 1996 in Manchester-By-The-Sea. A global forecasting and consulting company, it is now based in Arlington, Va.

Heidi Toffler traveled around the world speaking to academic, government, and business audiences and at international forums devoted to the future. She and her husband were for a time chairman and chairwoman of the United States Committee of the United Nations Fund for Women.

Heidi Toffler held many honorary doctorate degrees and was awarded the Medal of the President of the Italian Republic for her contributions to social thought.