May 16, 2008

Imre Hecht

Imre and Vera Hecht

We lost a good friend recently. Imre Hecht died at 98, only a short time after his beloved wife Vera. I delivered these remarks at Imre's funeral on May 4th:

I didn’t meet Imre Hecht until he was 90 years old. Now if you first meet someone only after they have lived nine decades, you might expect to encounter a person of significantly diminished capacity. You might expect them to be frail. You might expect their cognitive acuity to be compromised. You might expect them to be focused on themselves and on their end. In short, you might expect to encounter a person who had used up their life.

Now I knew no younger Imre to compare, but the Imre at 90, whom I met, was not a man who had used up his life. He was a man who was squarely in the middle of it. Both feet. Full speed. Deeply engaged. He was the only 90 year old, whom I knew who sent me emails, and the only person of any age whose emails contained such an unconventional, yet effective approach to the English language.

I must assume that the Imre I met at 90 was operating at some diminished energy, which leads me to marvel at what Imre must have been like at 30, when he was making movies for MGM in Budapest, before the war, the war that destroyed his beloved homeland and saw the murder of hundreds of thousands of his people. I wonder what he was like at 40, when he met and, within three days, married his beloved Vera, a story that I heard just last week during the memorial service that Imre planned for Vera at the Museum, and which his last illness kept him from attending.

He was a creative personality and he gave expression to his feelings and his musings in dramatic and memorable ways. Imre was often frustrated with us at the Museum; he had an endless series of suggestions for exhibitions and improvements and marketing strategies. On one visit I made to his apartment, Imre gave me a well thought out plan, including sketches, for an entire new gallery at the Museum. In the end, though he loved who we were as an institution, and he knew that we were there to tell his story.

The last time I saw him, in March in Sarasota, he looked marvelous. Tan and fit. He looked like Picasso with his straw hat and lively eyes. We talked about the memorial service for Vera, and he talked with Izabela about what he wanted to do, where he wanted to travel – Paris, Budapest.

Imre and Vera Hecht

If Imre Hecht had not been born, he would have had to be invented. The world needed a man like Imre -- not because he won great victories for humankind and not because he left behind enduring evidence of prodigious talent. No, Imre’s hold on all of was his unequaled love for life. He thirsted to experience the adventure that life on earth offers, and he was equipped to take it all in.