April Hechter, z”l

I lost a good friend a few weeks ago. April died a few days after we had a “Zoom” 78th birthday party for her. She had fought a valiant battle against cancer for several years.

April was a truly unique person. Now yes, I know, everyone is unique, we’re all different, but April was more unique than most. She was a fascinating combination of personality traits – smart, funny, stubborn, good at understanding people, even though by trade she was an accountant, and we don’t usually think of accountants as people super tuned in to people. She had a very casual relationship with time. She would be an hour or two late to things the way most people would be ten or fifteen minutes late to things, and mostly seemed unaware that people might be inconvenienced by that.

I met April in the 1980s through San Francisco Regional Mensa. The time of the infamous California “hot tub parties.” I had the chance to do some traveling with April in the late 80s and early 90s. Some of travel adventures we shared can tell you a lot about the sort of person she was.

In the late 80s April lived in Auckland, New Zealand, for a few years. She won a plane ticket to New Zealand in some contest or something, was supposed to go for three weeks, but decided she liked it there and ended up staying a few years. That right there I think tells you a lot about what kind of person she was. It certainly takes a “free spirit” to do something like that.

During that time, I had a business trip to Australia and New Zealand. I gave a lecture in Wellington on a Thursday, and April flew down from Auckland on a one-way ticket, so she could drive with me from Wellington to Auckland so I could see something of the country. We met up mid-afternoon and were wondering what one does for entertainment on a Thursday night in Wellington, a somewhat sleepy seaside town with 200,000 people. We open the paper and discover the Bolshoi Ballet was in town! We called to see if we could get tickets, and sure enough there were seats available. The salesperson was apologetic: “we only have the expensive dress circle tickets left.” The tickets were $36 – a lot cheaper than what I paid for tickets to the San Francisco Ballet! Made a great start to our weekend. The main things I remember from the drive are April’s comment that all the sheep looked like lint on the hills (New Zealand has about seven times as many sheep as people) and the almost overwhelming smell of the sulphur baths at Rotorua.

In ’91 we had a couple of adventures together. She came along on a sailing trip to the Caribbean. Our friend Phil and I were “co-captains.” Learning how to have “co-captains” without someone getting thrown overboard was interesting. The rest of the crew included Phil’s partner Pam, my then wife, Cheryl, our two kids Kiri (9) and Heather (4), and April. 

Considering how much time we all spend on Zoom these days, I was amused to look in my journal and note the name of 43’ sailboat we rented was “Zoom.” !  While we originally thought we might be eating a lot of our meals in restaurants in towns, we found that it was easier and more fun to just cook on the boat and not have to do a lot of schlepping, especially when we found beautiful, quiet anchorages, like the one at Colombier on St. Bart’s. 

We rented a couple of cars on St Kitts. Cheryl preferred riding in the air conditioned car Phil rented, and April preferred riding in the open air jeep with me, so April came with me and the kids, but then she put up a fuss about needing to drive, so she chauffeured us around, which I wasn’t too keen about because in those days I liked to be the driver (I’m now happy to let others drive). April wasn’t content to let it rest though, and while we were walking around the grounds of an old fort, April and I discussed “jeep keys” and what she described as my obsession with control.  Philosophy and psychological analysis in a tropical paradise!  April rode back with Phil and Pam.

The next day April and I took off to go horseback riding.  April drove at rate of speed that frightened me, if not the natives and livestock. Walter, a pleasant chap, runs “Trinity Stables.”  We went on a 3-hour ride, with a 14-year-old native named Sheldon as our guide.  My horse was Snow White; April’s was Ginger.  Ginger was blind in one eye.  We rode into the jungle a ways, and then parked the horses and walked in to a waterfall.

April’s disposition improved significantly once she was in the saddle.  She’s an excellent rider.  We ran the horses a bit, which seemed somewhat to Sheldon’s consternation.  Sheldon was quite excited describing how Missing in Action II, a Chuck Norris movie, was filmed right where we went riding.  The stables didn’t get any business out of it, as they helicoptered in every day from Basseterre, but he was certainly excited that his piece of jungle was a set in a movie.  At one point he stopped and said, “right here is where Chuck Norris bites the head of a rat.”  Lovely.

Coming back, I stopped to use the bathroom; Walter let me into his apartment; it was interesting to see how the locals live.  A neat, tidy, but small apartment.  Walter and his buddies were leaning on a car drinking when we pulled up; he offered us libations.  When I got out of the bathroom, he was still looking for the rum.  Meanwhile, April had a fit about waiting, and had walked off.  Walter, who was several sheets to the wind, was out of rum.  I took a Sprite and took off after April; Walter considerately pushed a Sprite for April on me too.  April was on the street, hitch-hiking.  I offered her a ride.  She was upset about our being late and didn’t like my making unilateral decisions about using her time (stopping for a drink with Walter).  I didn’t think she had quite adapted to “island time.”  And it was kind of a switch, her being the one to worry about being late!

That summer April also came on a business trip to Mexico and Guatemala with me. We were flying in my Cessna Turbo 210, a nice, fast, single engine plane. We flew down to San Diego and picked up my company’s rep for Mexico, Ernesto. Ernesto and I had meetings in Tijuana, Juarez, Monterrey, and Veracruz. From Veracruz Ernesto caught a commercial flight back to Mexico City, his home, for the weekend, and April and I continued on to Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Cancun. Enroute to Isla Mujeres we did a low fly-by of the pyramids at Chichen Itza. I did some diving in Isla Mujeres, April went snorkeling. From there we flew to Tulum and toured the archeological site, and then on to Guatemala City. 

I had business in Guatemala City, and then we went up to the beautiful town of Antigua and bought some of the famous, colorful Guatemalan textiles. We had quite a hassle getting out of Guatemala. We got the plane loaded and ready to go, then I noticed they hadn’t gassed the plane up as I’d asked. We had to wait forever for someone to show up with a fuel truck. After they finally got the plane fueled, I called the tower and they told me the airport was closed because there were thunderstorms in the area. I shut the plane down, pulled the key out of the ignition, and feeling a little frustrated tossed the key on top of the dashboard – and it immediately slid down the air tube for the defroster! I started cursing. I crawled under the instrument panel, found the right tube to disconnect, but the key had gotten stuck up above somewhere and my hand was too big to fit in the tube. So April laid on her back on the floor of the plane and managed to squeeze her hand into the tube and retrieve the key. 

By the time the airport opened again, it was getting late. We’d had plans to meet a friend of mine, Emerich, for dinner in Mexico City, but we obviously weren’t going to get in by dinner time. The flight from Guatemala to Mexico City took 4 hours, 3 of them after dark. When we were over Oaxaca I got into an argument with air traffic control. They told me Mexico City airport was closed to planes slower than 250 knots (which meant us) after 8pm, they wanted us to divert to Acapulco, something like 100 miles out of the way. And I looked in the direction of Acapulco and there were thunderstorms in that direction, so I told the controller, “I’m not going to Acapulco, how about if we land at Oaxaca?” Customs was already closed for the night at Oaxaca, so he reluctantly cleared us to Mexico City. 

I’d been warned that in Mexico City, every private plane arriving was greeted by a drug control officer, and sure enough when we landed someone in a police uniform came out to the plane. I was envisioning more delays and lots of rummaging through the luggage. Instead, the cop was very drunk, and very jolly, and helped us carry our luggage and get a cab!

On the way back to the US we stopped in Leon and Guadalajara; saw someone in Guadalajara do a gear up landing in the same model plane we were flying. His landing gear got stuck and wouldn’t come down, not even with the emergency gear extension protocol. The pilot did a brilliant job – he shut the engine down on short final, and got the prop horizontal so the prop and engine wouldn’t be damaged when he bellied in. We also flew over the Barranca de Cobre, the Copper Canyon, “Mexico’s Grand Canyon,” on the way.

April and I became very close on that trip. Somehow when you have hours and hours sitting in the cockpit of a small plane, especially at night, it’s easy to talk and open your heart. I was going through a difficult time at my job (was being fired from a company I co-founded and was CEO of) and a difficult time in my marriage (Cheryl and I separated a few months later). One of the other things about April was she had a grade A, first class, bullshit detector. Everyone kids themselves sometimes. Back then, 30 years ago, I was probably better at telling myself nonsense than most people. April would call me on it, have me dig a little deeper, and helped me figure out what was really going on. A friend like that is invaluable. Way better than therapy. Her bullshit detector and caring presence really helped me through a rough time in my life.

A few years later I left the Bay Area but would still see April whenever I was passing through. We’d either go for a walk in a nearby cemetery (the nearest place for some greenery) or out for a glass of wine or meal. It’s going to be weird not having her around anymore. I’m really disappointed I didn’t get a chance to go down to the Bay Area to see her one more time before she passed because of the coronavirus.

But as you can tell from what I’ve written, her memory really is a blessing. I hope her partner for the last 30 years, Eric, takes comfort from his memories of the good times. She’s missed by everyone who knew her.

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

One thought on “April Hechter, z”l

  • June 24, 2020 at 4:31 am
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    I am very sad to hear this news. She was a very good horsewoman and yes could drive fast. I regret I had not been able to see April again.

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