A Life's Story
July 15, 2023
A fine balance
Law, arts, philanthropy and family were William Hechter’s passions
By: Janine LeGal
Whether as a student, lawyer, theatre owner or concert promoter, William Samuel Hechter knew how to multi-task and find the art of balance in every day, especially when it came to law and the arts.
Like his loving family before him, Hechter faced life with optimistic enthusiasm, fearlessly daring to make his dreams a reality, and doing all he could to continue that legacy with his own children and grandchildren. His was an exuberant life of myriad chapters, filled with putting things into motion like a choreographer.
Simply put, there was never room for a dull moment in Hechter’s life. “Can’t” wasn’t a word in his vocabulary.
Born in Winnipeg in 1947, Hechter had what he considered an idyllic childhood. His father was a civil engineer and contractor, his mother a dietitian. They instilled in him an affinity for the underdog, and a profound appreciation for education, justice, equity, hard work and kindness.
As a child he enjoyed sports and revelled in summers at Clear Lake with his family and friends. Those joyful summers spent at Clear Lake started a tradition his children and grandchildren continue to this day.
Hechter wanted to be a radio broadcaster, so when he was 13, he set up a pretend radio broadcasting system in the basement of the family home. He played music, gave the weather report and read the news, convincing his sister and all his friends that it was a real radio station.
A few years later, when only 19, he became a concert promoter — a real one, not pretend — and brought some of the greatest bands to Winnipeg, including Simon and Garfunkel, Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes, and Jay and the Americans.
All this while thriving in law school.
Hechter attended the University of Manitoba and then went to Harvard Law School, where he graduated with a master of law degree. Much of his practice as a criminal law defender involved representing impoverished and marginalized clients, inspiring him to establish his own firm where he practiced as a criminal defence lawyer.
He also founded Canadian Lawyer Magazine, still in publication today.
In his early 20s, Hechter created Cinema 3, the city’s first Art Cinema, where Winnipeggers could watch internationally renowned films. Located at the corner of Sherbrook and Ellice, it was recognized by then-premier Ed Schreyer as a vital addition to Winnipeg’s rich cultural scene.
“He was extremely creative, innovative and passionate,” said his daughter, Sloane Freeman. “He had a lot of really big ideas. What set him apart was his belief that he could achieve them. If there was a will, there was a way. He was extremely determined and had all these creative achievements and ideas from a really young age.”
Hechter met Linda Herschman on a blind date in Minneapolis in 1975. As with everything else in his life, he knew when the time was right.
“In his very decisive and quick-thinking way, he determined that they would get married after just 15 dates,” his daughter explained. “Fortunately, my mom agreed.”
The couple moved to Toronto the following year. They had two daughters, and six grandchildren.
Hechter’s collaboration with artist Andy Warhol in 1980 resulted in a limited serigraph edition and four original oil portraits of Karen Kain, the prima ballerina of the National Ballet of Canada. She was the first Canadian ever painted by Warhol. Hechter donated 50 serigraphs to raise money for the ballet company and three oil-portrait paintings to the Art Gallery of Ontario.
His love of film led him to launch Clear Lake Historical Productions, an homage to his Manitoba roots. He then conceived and produced two award-winning documentary films, illustrating his conviction that anyone can do anything if they believe in themselves. Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story was narrated by actor Dustin Hoffman. A.K.A. Doc Pomus chronicled the life of rock ‘n’ roll songwriter from his childhood battle with polio to his induction into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. Both films aired in Canada and the United States, and played at festivals worldwide.
“He did not really sit still,” said Freeman. “He was always on the go, on a project, coming up with new ideas; he moved very fast. For us he was a sort of hero. He represented that which is good and right. He instilled a really strong value system for us. Those values guided us through our lives. We are lucky.”
“As inspiring as he was for our children, he was equally inspiring for me,” said Linda, his wife of 47 years. “I always thought his ideas were the best. We agreed on everything in terms of values. I was always supportive of all of his projects.
“He had this incredible artistic side. He would have a brilliant idea: he would bring it to fruition— every project he started. Internally he had this incredible sense of justice. He always said that if you got rid of poverty, you’d get rid of 95 per cent of all crimes. He was a very beautiful person. I feel incredibly fortunate.”
Surrounded by family, Hechter died at 75 in his home on Sept. 17.
Throughout his life, Hechter generously contributed to charitable causes, his philanthropy quietly supporting many individuals in need. His daughter recalls overhearing a call from someone thanking her father for paying for his expedited cancer surgery in the U.S.
“Nobody in our family knew anything about this. There was also the little boy he didn’t know, with autism, who didn’t speak. My dad organized and supported intensive treatment for him so he could have a chance at communicating and developing well. There are too many stories like these to share.”
Above all of his achievements was the love he gave to his family.
“We knew we were the apple of his eye,” said Freeman. “There isn’t anything ever that he wouldn’t do for us, and we felt it.
“He was so incredibly intertwined with his grandkids’ lives. He saw them almost every single day, and cheered them on. He drove them to school, played tennis with them, played catch, taught them chess, he took them to baseball games and travelled with them. He just adored them all and nothing brought him more joy.”
Toward the end of his life, Hechter asked his daughter to kiss her children when she put them to bed and tell them that the kiss was from him.
“He just wanted a way to keep sharing his love with them even after he was gone.”