WNET Mourns the Loss of Richard Heffner

WNET sadly shares the news that The Open Mind host Richard D. Heffner died on Tuesday, December 17 at the age of 88 at his home in New York City. A trained American historian, Mr. Heffner contributed to broadcasting and media for over half a century, with The Open Mind first broadcasting in 1956.

Mr. Heffner was a public television pioneer who played a leading role in the founding of THIRTEEN/WNET, acting as its first general manager. He had been Univeresity Professor of Communications and Public Policy at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, since 1964. Mr. Heffner also chaired the Motion Picture Association of America’s Classification and Rating Administration for two decades.

A more thorough overview of his invaluable contributions to media, education and public discourse can be found on his Open Mind About page.

Mr. Heffner is survived by his wife, Dr. Elaine Heffner, and their two sons and four grandchildren.

Rutgers Today notes the loss of Mr. Heffner, excerpted below.

Heffner taught at Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information for nearly 50 years. Before coming to Rutgers, he taught history and political science at the University of California, Sarah Lawrence College, the New School for Social Research and New York University. He was teaching two courses at the time of his death, “Communication and Human Values” in the School of Arts and Sciences and “Mass Communication and the American Image” in the School of Communication and Information.

It was as the host of The Open Mind from 1956 until his death that Heffner was known best. He sat down with one or two guests, ranging from Margaret Mead to Malcolm X to President Jimmy Carter, and gently asked pointed questions, looking directly at them, listening carefully and digesting their answers before asking his next question.

It was a familiar technique to his students. In a statement to those students, his colleague Matt Matsuda, dean of the honors program in the School of Arts and Sciences, said: “But what he loved most was teaching. Why else would he have continued to work with honors long after many others would have retired? Great students were his inspiration and his joy.”

“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.”