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Distinguished Rutgers Professor Passes Away at 88 Years Old

Communications Professor and PBS Host Richard D. Heffner Died December 17
Richard Heffner
Richard Heffner, a longtime Rutgers professor and TV host passed away on December 17 at the age of 88. Rutgers University

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On Tuesday December 17th, legendary Rutgers professor Richard D. Heffner passed away of a cerebral anurism in his home in Manhattan at 88 years old.

A professor of communication and public policy for nearly 50 years, Heffner was one of the most well-known faculty members, and before his death, was teaching two classes at Rutgers: Mass Communication and The American Image, and Communication and Human Values.

Professor Heffner was also the host of the PBS interview news show, The Open Mind, since 1956. He interviewed some of most important historical figures over his decades with the show, some of whom included Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, Muhammad Ali, Malcom X, and Margaret Mead.

Episodes that have already been taped of the program will continue to run for months, according to Heffner's wife Elaine, but the fate of the show thereafter is yet to be determined. 

Heffner was born in Manhattan on August 5, 1956. He credited his father for inspiring his passion for reading and learning.  Heffner's father was a successful bookmaker up until the Great Depression when he lost the majority of his wealthy customers. 

After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, the younger Heffner went on to recieve his bachelors and masters degrees in history from Columbia University, where he was a well- known broadcaster on the campus radio station.

He first began his teaching career at St. Lawrence College, but was soon beckoned by the broadcasting industry.

He began circulating New York radio stations as a broadcaster, and at one point interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt to commemorate the eighth anniversary of former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt's death.

He was granted the interview, and to his utter terror, had realized that the recording of it had accidentally been erased.  Luckily, Mrs. Roosevelt kindly agreed to retape the interview.  The station was so happy with the interview that they gave Professor Heffner a weekly half hour show, "History in the News."

"Dick Heffner was a valued member of our community who taught generations of students in communication, journalism and media studies," said Claire McInerney, dean of the School of Communication and Information.

“He was a major contributor to the understanding of media and their role in a democratic society. He was a sweet man whose intelligence always shone through, whether he was on camera or in a lunchtime conversation."

Heffner leaves behind his wife, Elaine, sons Daniel and Andrew, and their wives, Beth and Carla; as well as grandchildren Alexander, Jeremy, Zachary and Sophia.

His family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to support New York’s public television station, WNET, which Heffner helped to found.

Checks should be made out to WNET, with the notation that it is for “the continuing production of Richard Heffner’s The Open Mind," and sent to Ms. Patricia Hayes, Grants Management Specialist, 825 Fifth Ave., 14th Floor, New York, New York 10022.