Bill Hecht, Rest In Peace

(Action Sports Photography/Shutterstock.)

John Linder Former Congressman
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Bill Hecht died on Monday. He was a fixture in Washington for nearly 50 years.

My wife and I first met Bill in 1993 on a train to Princeton for a Republican retreat. Bill introduced himself as another Georgian. We were standing in the aisle of a moving train and he asked me to consider legislation replacing the dollar bill with a dollar coin to aid the vending machine industry. He was always on the job.

That evening over dinner I asked a senior member who Bill Hecht was. I was told he was a cigar smoking, whiskey drinking tobacco lobbyist. Over the years, as Bill and I became friends, I learned that he was a cigar smoking, whiskey drinking tobacco lobbyist – with a heart as big as all outdoors. Though, I confess, it was more wine than whiskey.

My first appreciation for lobbyists came in 1975 in the Georgia legislature. A bill had been introduced to reduce the size of the water tank on toilets to save millions of gallons of fresh water. It made a lot of sense and the committee was enamored with the idea. On the day we were to act on the bill I arrived to find the committee room packed. I couldn’t imagine who might be interested in this prosaic idea, but many were. I wondered who they were.

A lobbyist, uninvolved in the issue, had noticed the bill moving through the process and called a friend who owned a plumbing distributorship. That friend then called his friends and they all showed up. Some had spent a lifetime in the business and their entire life’s savings was the inventory we were about to outlaw. We didn’t pass the bill.

From then on I looked at lobbyists differently. I got to know many. They were just normal people doing a job. Their kids went to school with our kids. They went to our church. They coached little league. They were hired to watch over the legislative process in hopes of stopping us from putting their employer out of business by accident.

Bill Hecht was typical of those lobbyists. He came to Washington from Tifton, Georgia during the Nixon administration. He stayed. For nearly 40 years he represented companies whose future was impacted by legislation. And he raised a family that kept him grounded.

If you befriended Bill you soon got to know Susan and the boys. And then the boys’ families. They were the center of Bill’s life. Every Sunday they sat in the same pew in church. As the family grew they took up more space, but they were there. Every Sunday.

Every year over July 4th Bill would rent a home on the outer banks of North Carolina for a week. Each year it would be a bigger house to include more friends and more kids. Even a former babysitter, who was then in medical school, remained a part of the Hecht life and was included in the family vacation.

I once asked Bill if he could get my son and me on a golf course on a Saturday. He said he could and insisted that it be on his course and that he join us. So Matt and I joined Bill and Jimmy on a golf outing. As we finished he told Matt and me to take our time, but he was rushing off. He had a grandson in a little league game that he didn’t want to miss and he was in charge of the cookout after the game.

It was always the family.

I once told Lynne that if anything ever happened to me in Washington, and she didn’t know where to turn, to call Bill Hecht. Bill touched many more people than anyone knows in many more ways than anyone knows. For those who feel compelled to denigrate the role of lobbyists in our system, just remember Bill Hecht.

Bill was just a gentle man who happened to work for companies whose future was impacted by government. He loved his God, his family and his country – in that order, and spent a lifetime on his knees in obeisance to the first to serve the other two.

For Susan and the family it is well to recall the words of the psalmist who wrote: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and those who are crushed in spirit, He saves.”

May God give you Peace.

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