- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

John Walter Hechinger, a fifth-generation Washingtonian who died on his 84th birthday, was hailed yesterday for his love of family, leadership of the District, enthusiasm for swimming, tennis and football, and loyalty to friends.

The businessman and civic activist died from respiratory problems at his Northeast home Saturday. About 1,000 relatives, former associates and friends attended a memorial service for Mr. Hechinger yesterday at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Northwest.

“John Hechinger did well, and he did good,” said Vernon Jordan, a lawyer and political power broker.

“John Hechinger helped make the District of Columbia glorious and great,” he said.

Mr. Hechinger, an advocate of home rule for the District, was appointed in 1967 by President Johnson as chairman of the first D.C. Council, serving for two years during the District’s first mayor-council style of government.

An engineering graduate of Yale University, Mr. Hechinger helped build the family business, Hechinger Building Goods Co., into a multibillion-dollar corporation with 118 stores in the East and Midwest. He stepped down as chairman in 1996. The company was sold and three years later filed for bankruptcy.

“John Hechinger took the lead, locally and nationally, in hiring blacks and women in administrative and management positions,” said Mr. Jordan.

He also recalled helping Mr. Hechinger organize early morning tennis matches, followed by breakfast. “He was interested in our thoughts about the issues of the day,” Mr. Jordan said.

A lifelong friend, James Newmyer of the District, said Mr. Hechinger once set a record time in swimming 100 meters, and as a teenager assembled a washtub, broom handle and string to be played like a bass fiddle.

“He really loved it,” said Mr. Newmyer, adding that his friends eventually chipped in and bought a real bass fiddle for him.

His daughter Nancy Hechinger, of New York, said, “He was a great friend, a great citizen — but he was a spectacular father.”

She recalled as a child, walking the beach with her father. He began raising his arms in time with the waves, then lowering them as the waves crashed down, and then walking away after saying, “Okay. You’ve got it. Just keep it going. We’ve got to go now.”

“He knew how to start it up. He didn’t know how to turn it off,” said son S. Ross Hechinger. of Washington.

On John Hechinger’s 55th birthday, and every five years afterward, he would take his entire family on vacation, the son said.

Other survivors are wife June Ross Hechinger, whom he married 57 years ago; son John W. Hechinger Jr., of Bethesda; daughter Sally Rudoy, of Montclair, N.J.; sister Lois Hechinger England, of Washington; 10 grandchildren and a great-grandson.

Among those attending the memorial service were D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, both Democrats.

The family requests that donations in honor of Mr. Hechinger be sent to the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice Inc., 733 15th St. NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005.

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