Heiress and philanthropist

Born: March 8, 1915;

Died: March 30, 2018

DRUE Heinz, who has died aged 103, was the widow of the former head of the international food giant H J Heinz Company - ‘Beanz Means Heinz’ but she was also an enthusiastic supporter of the arts in Scotland and sponsored young literary talent with gusto.

Mrs Heinz endowed two of the most significant literary awards in America and Britain and was recognised on both sides of the Atlantic as a lively, engaging woman of discerning taste and a probing intellect. She was a founder of Ecco Press in 1971 which published emerging poets.

Her connection with Scotland went back many years. Mrs Heinz died at Hawthornden Castle, Midlothian, which she had lovingly restored throughout the 1980s and transformed into a writers’ retreat. The imposing castle is on the River North Esk and close to historic Roslin chapel.

She founded the literary retreat in 1983 as a place where writers could read, write and study at ease. In her time she has helped such authors as Ian Rankin, Alasdair Gray and JK Rowling. Over the past 30 years the castle has hosted hundreds of playwrights (Tom Stoppard) poets and novelists (AN Wilson).

When Mrs Heinz announced the foundation of a Hawthornden Castle fellowship she stated, “Any creative writer, from any part of the world, who has already published may apply for a fellowship.” She provided the peace and tranquillity to allow writers to chat together and work in a convivial atmosphere. Breakfasts and dinners were served in the ‘hearth room’ at an elm table scarred by centuries of use. Pewter is a feature of the castle and the morning porridge was served in a pewter bowl. Lunch was delivered to the rooms in Fortnum and Mason wicker baskets.

Internet and mobile phone reception was not reliable and there was a rule of silence between 9.30am and 6.30pm. Margaret Skea, the historical fiction author, has written of her time at Hawthornden in 2016: “I came hoping to start the third novel in my 16th century Scottish trilogy, but with no idea of a plot. I left with the first draft. It’s impossible to adequately describe the experience, suffice to say it was one of the most productive months of my writing life.”

Mrs Heinz’s generosity was extensive though she often gave without public recognition. It is thought she gave £1m for the forecourt of the new Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh two decades ago and ‘assisted’ with the impressive Raphael to Renoir drawings exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland in 2009.

Mrs Heinz also ame to the aid of the Edinburgh Festival when a planned 1981 exhibition of Latin American art was cancelled by the Mexican government. The Heinz Foundation financed a splendid replacement, American Abstract Expressionists, at the Fruit Market Gallery.

She was a patron of the festival and her annual lobster suppers at Hawthornden were a much prised invitation. In 2004 she was in a list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Scotland.

Doreen Mary English’s early life is somewhat shrouded in mystery – even the date of her birth is questioned. Officially she was born in Norfolk but other accounts suggest Dorset. Her parents were Irish and her father was an army officer. During the war it is suggested she worked for MI5 and was ‘close’ to the exiled Prince Paul of Yugoslavia.

Her first two marriages were brief. Her first to John Mackenzie Robertson lasted two years and the second to Dale Wilford Maher ended when he was killed in a car crash.

Mrs Heinz returned to Britain and found work as an actress using the stage name of Drue Mallory. She appeared in three 1950 movies, Please Believe Me, starring Deborah Kerr, Three Came Home and Breakthrough. But her life changed dramatically when she married Jack Heinz in 1953.

Her love of the written word remained a major influence all her life. She was an incurable insomniac and often sat through the night avidly reading novels and poetry.

Throughout their 34 years of marriage she and her husband became part of the international social scene. She was a great friend of the royals and was, for example, seated in Prince Charles’s Garter stall for the service of blessing following his marriage to Camilla in 2005. There is a delightful story told when she threw a grand ball to celebrate her husband’s 75th birthday in 1983. Both the Queen and Princess Margaret attended and all the guests were instructed not to bring presents over 57p – a nod to the 57 Varieties that had contributed to the Heinz fortune.

Mrs Heinz also encouraged artists to visit her villa, Casa Ecco, on Lake Como. The portrait that her friend, David Hockney, drew there now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. At Casa Ecco politicians, writers and artists would swim, eat al fresco and talk.

Drue Heinz is remembered by many as an absolute charmer who often returned to her beloved Hawthornden. Former UK arts minister Lord Gowrie said yesterday: "At the age of 100 and over, she still attended talks and readings at the summer Edinburgh Book Festival. Drue was modest, even frugal, in her own tastes; she was the most generous hostess imaginable. A funny, unforgettable, erudite woman."

In 1995 she was appointed an honorary DBE. She is survived by her two daughters.