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Shirley F. Hecht, Baltimore Schools for the Arts administrator, dies

Shirley F. Hecht, Baltimore Schools for the Arts administrator, dies
Shirley F. Hecht died of stroke complications March 6 at her Pikesville home. (HANDOUT)

Shirley F. Hecht, a retired Baltimore School for the Arts administrator who worked with elementary school students interested in music and performance, died of complications from a stroke March 6 at her Pikesville home. She was 91.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Linden Avenue, she was the daughter of Rena Jaffe Looban. Her father was Abraham Looban, who traded in jute and burlap and owned the Merchants Bag and Cover Co., and was raised in Durban, South Africa. He died in 1924, about 13 weeks after she was born.

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Her mother married embroidery company executive Arthur Fineman in 1931. Family members said she used the name Shirley Fineman because Arthur Fineman was the father she knew.

She attended the Liberty School and Robert E. Lee No. 49, and was a 1941 graduate of Western High School. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree at Goucher College.

She met her future husband, Louis G. Hecht, at a dance at the Suburban Club hosted by Mano Swartz. They married in 1946 and lived on Sudbrook Lane in Pikesville and on Overbrook Road in Pikesville. The couple later resided on Slade Avenue.

Her son, Julien A. Hecht, said his mother focused her life on her family and entertaining her wide circle of old and new friends.

"She regularly 'adopted' new people who had moved to Baltimore and made sure they met a variety of people at her parties," said her son, an Annapolis resident. "Her passions were the visual arts and the performing arts."

In the 1950s, he said, Mrs. Hecht and a small group of women with similar interests began traveling regularly to New York City.

"We would take the Ladies Day Special on the Pennsylvania Railroad," said her sister, Beatrice "Beatie" Levi of Pikesville. "We would go to the theater. But one day … we went to the Museum of Modern Art. We didn't understand what we saw there."

Mrs. Levi said the group enlisted the help of a Baltimore Sun art critic, Kenneth Sawyer, who knew the New York arts scene. The group soon expanded their travels beyond the Broadway stage and were getting to know the works of artists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

Mrs. Hecht was a founding member of what became a formal association, the Art Seminar Group. The group expanded its numbers and worked up programs of painting and sculpture, as well as theater. Members traveled widely.

Her son said the group remains active, and now has several hundred members. Mrs. Hecht attended nearly all its meetings, and visited private art collections both in this country and overseas.

Her sister said, "Shirley was a beautiful person inside and out. She was a woman of style. When she dressed, she was beautiful. When she entertained, it was elegant."

In the 1980s, Mrs. Hecht began volunteering at Baltimore School for the Arts on Cathedral Street.

She became an administrator at the school and worked with its To Work In Gaining Skills (TWIGS) program. The program focuses at students in second through eighth grades in after-school and Saturday outreach programs. Students audition for the program, which provides them with free classes in the performing and visual arts.

"We all age, but Shirley became a younger person by being around those kids," said Stiles T. Colwill, a friend. "She threw her life into the School for the Arts."

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"Shirley was a wonderful supporter of the arts in Baltimore, and she had a great eye for modern art," he said. "She had one of the most infectious laughs. She was a woman of beautiful taste and she loved to tell a story."

She and her husband established a fund at the Baltimore School for the Arts to help provide college scholarships to former TWIGS students.

Mrs. Hecht was also involved in the Baltimore jazz circles. She and her husband donated an extensive collection of jazz recordings to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. She was a member of the American Wing at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

She was also an antiques collector and gardener.

Services were held March 9 at Sol Levinson and Bros.

In addition to her son and sister, survivors include another son, Louis Hecht Jr. of Annapolis; and three grandchildren. Her husband of 67 years, who was a Triangle Sign Co. executive and a fine arts appraiser, died in 2014.

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