Life and career
Born to George and Jeanne Gerstenfeld, Virginia was raised in Brooklyn with her brother Leon. A redheaded organic chemist and biochemist, she served as an inspiration for many of the active and talented red-haired women in Heinlein's stories. She met Robert when they both worked at the
Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia when she was a lieutenant in the WAVES in the U.S. Navy in World War II. She moved to Los Angeles in 1946 to take an advanced degree, where Heinlein had already relocated after the war. They married on October 21, 1948 in Raton, New Mexico. Shortly thereafter they moved to Colorado, but in 1965 her health was chronically affected by the altitude, so the couple moved to Bonny Doon, California.
Prior to a trip to the Soviet Union, where they happened to be when Francis Gary Powers was shot down, Virginia learned to speak Russian, which proved invaluable in talking with local citizens. She was highly esteemed among her husband's fans for her exceptional willingness to correspond with them, a practice that continued until her last days, with activity in a Usenet newsgroup devoted to Heinlein fans. She was touched when other users sent her Mother's Day greetings as an homage to her bestowing the title of "Heinlein's Children" on Robert's fans worldwide.
After Robert's death in 1988, she moved from California to Florida, where she edited a collection of his letters and writings, published in 1989 as Grumbles from the Grave. She authorised the publication of Tramp Royale and longer editions of previously published works Stranger in a Strange Land, The Puppet Masters, and Red Planet. She established a literary society in her husband's name, the Heinlein Society.