Robert E. Hecht Sr. was former chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the old Baltimore Federal Financial and a supporter and board president of Catholic Charities.
Robert E. Hecht Sr. was former chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the old Baltimore Federal Financial and a supporter and board president of Catholic Charities. (Baltimore Sun)

Robert E. Hecht Sr., former chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the old Baltimore Federal Financial and a supporter and board president of Catholic Charities, died Saturday of congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease at the Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville.

The former Hunting Ridge and Canton resident was 91.

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Robert Earl Hecht Sr. was the son of Frank C. Hecht, a real estate professional and mortgage banker, and Kathryn V. Hecht, who was also a real estate professional and, with her husband, owned and operated Hecht Real Estate.

He was born and raised in Chicago, and graduated from Loyola Academy in Chicago.

He attended Xavier University in Cincinnati before enlisting in the Navy in 1943. He attended Dartmouth College and was named a naval communications officer. He served as a lieutenant junior grade until being discharged in 1946.

Mr. Hecht entered Loyola University in Chicago and earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1948, then obtained a law degree in 1950 from the Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee. He was also a graduate of the University of Indiana's graduate school for savings and loan executives.

He was recalled to active naval duty in 1950 as a legal specialist and served until being discharged in 1954 with the rank of lieutenant commander. Beginning in 1954, he was an FBI special agent until being injured in a gun incident in 1959 at Quantico, Va.

In 1959, Mr. Hecht joined what was then Baltimore Federal Savings and Loan Association — later Baltimore Federal Financial. He was executive vice president and became the bank's chairman of the board and chief executive officer in 1975.

He had also served as president of both the Colonial Corner Service Corp. and Protective Insurance Agency Inc.

In the 1980s, the bank got caught up in the savings and loan crisis sweeping the nation, and by 1986 the "bad loans were mounting and the intoxicating profits were vanishing," reported The Baltimore Sun in a 1996 article.

"Baltimore Federal tried to sell itself, but the deal fell through," The Sun reported.

Mr. Hecht was forced to retire from the bank in 1988, and in 1992 he and nine other directors and executives agreed to pay $1.7 million to settle a lawsuit that had been filed against them by the Resolution Trust Corp, according to the 1996 Sun article.

Bill McCarthy, executive director of Catholic Charities of Baltimore, grew up in Hunting Ridge and was a friend of Mr. Hecht and his family for 50 years.

During the bank's ordeal, he said, Mr. Hecht handled it with "remarkable grace and faith."

"He was a principled leader for the people and stockholders of the bank," Mr. McCarthy said. "He took things that were beyond his control so personally."

Mr. Hecht served on numerous boards, including the U.S. League of Savings Institutions, Maryland Housing Policy Commission, Maryland Public Broadcasting Foundation, Johns Hopkins Center for Metropolitan Planning and Research, the state Department of Economic and Community Development, American Heart Association, American Automobile Association of Maryland and United Way of Central Maryland.

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A lifelong Roman Catholic, he was an incorporator of St. William of York Roman Catholic Church.

Mr. Hecht also served as president of the board of Catholic Charities of Baltimore from 1982 to 1984, and volunteered at Christopher's Place, its homeless shelter.

"He was a great person in both the community and church, and he was a person who had sensitivity and an understanding of people's needs," Mr. McCarthy said. "At St. William of York, he led the effort that adopted a Vietnamese refugee family and helped settle and find them a home."

At Catholic Charities, "he viewed how we do our work throughout Baltimore and established the Children's Fund. It will be his legacy," Mr. McCarthy said. "He was ... sensitive to the work and the reserves that we needed."

He described Mr. Hecht as a "humble person who could always engage people. He was just always like a good neighbor."

In addition to his work with Catholic Charities, he was an adjunct faculty member at what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University.

He was also a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and in 1990 received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from Pope John Paul II. The award was presented by the papal nuncio in a ceremony at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

While living in Canton, he was a communicant and attended Mass at St. Casimir Roman Catholic Church. For the last 20 years he lived at the Charlestown retirement community.

His wife of 59 years, the former Marion Ann Stout, died in 2009.

"He really didn't have any hobbies. He had 10 children. and his family was his hobby," said a daughter, Frances H. Becker of Annapolis.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Friday at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel at Charlestown, 700 Maiden Choice Lane.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Hecht is survived by three sons, Robert E. Hecht Jr. of Glenelg, William Y. Hecht of Reisterstown and Thomas A. Hecht of Singapore; six other daughters, Catherine H. Young of Baltimore, Patricia M. Hecht, Teresa H. Valais, Susan H. Maggio, all of Catonsville, Margaret H. Gillespie, of Cockeysville and Marion A. Hecht of Fairfax, Va.; 22 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.

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