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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010

Cec Heftel touched lives

by Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A remembrance gathering in honor of the late Cec Heftel was held yesterday at the Hawaii Theatre.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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They called him a visionary. They called him a dynamo. They called him the ultimate promoter.

The adjectives for Cec Heftel were as varied as the participants at yesterday's celebration of his life at the Hawaii Theatre.

About 200 people, from broadcast journalists to politicians, attended the gathering to remember the media executive and former congressman.

Heftel, 85, died Feb. 4 in San Diego.

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, called Heftel a legend of his time who had a zest for life.

"He had a keen mind," Inouye said. "He could cut through rubbish and see what mattered. He was a good man, and when he left, we all missed him."

Heftel, who came to the Islands in the late 1960s, bought and ran KGMB's AM and FM radio stations and television station. Under his leadership of the stations, on-air personalities such as news anchor Bob Sevey, George "Granny Goose" Grove and Hal "J. Akuhead Pupule" Lewis became local favorites.

"He was very tolerant, but not very patient," said Grove. "There are so many colorful stories of those glorious days. People listened when he talked."

Many yesterday praised the mark Heftel left behind.

In addition to being a broadcaster, Heftel got into politics in the early 1970s, first as a delegate to the state and national Democratic conventions and later as an elected congressman, serving from 1977 to 1986, when he resigned to run for governor. His last elected position was as a member of the Board of Education.

As the owner of KGMB, Heftel had a knack for spotting talent, bringing in Sevey as the nightly news anchor. Some have described Sevey as Hawai'i's own Walter Cronkite.

Heftel also was behind "Checkers and Pogo," a popular local afternoon television program for children. It ran from 1967 to 1982.

"He did elevate the quality of the broadcast media," said Leslie Wilcox, who was wooed by Heftel to make the transition from newspaper to broadcast journalism. Today, Wilcox heads the Hawai'i PBS station.

"He and Sevey believed in me," Wilcox said. "They knew that somewhere inside me there was someone who would be good at TV."

Heftel went through his darkest days in 1986, after losing the race for the Democratic nomination to succeed Gov. George Ariyoshi to John Waihee, who had been trailing well behind Heftel in the polls. Heftel claimed he was smeared by false rumors in the closing days of the primary, and a state investigation was opened to look into the matter.

But nothing came of it, and Heftel left the Islands for California. He stayed away for more than a decade, but re-emerged in Hawai'i public life in 2004, when he was elected to one term on the state Board of Education.

He wanted to be on the Board of Education because he believed he could make positive change, attendees said yesterday.

Said his wife, Rebecca Heftel: "Every life he touched, he made a difference. He was fabulous."