Veteran journalist and journalism educator John Gene Heckathorn died this morning at Straub Clinic & Hospital at the age of 65 after suffering a heart attack Christmas morning at his home in Kalama Valley.
Heckathorn had been in Straub’s intensive care unit since Christmas and never regained consciousness following the heart attack, said Heckathorn’s wife, Barbara Heckathorn, who is a spokeswoman for Hawaiian Electric Co.
Heckathorn had served as editor for Honolulu Magazine, where he continued to write a popular food column.
In the fall, Heckathorn joined the journalism faculty at Hawaii Pacific University where he embraced the concepts of modern-day journalism using social media tools, Barbara said.
"One of his talents was teaching and developing young people," she said. "And he just loved gadgets and new technology. He loved Facebook. He loved to blog. He embraced all the new media. At home, he was our in-house IT guy. He could do anything with technology."
Heckathorn was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in the Northern California town of Orinda.
He received a bachelor’s degree in English from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, in 1968 and went on to earn a doctorate in English from the University of Pennsylvania.
"He always wanted to be a writer because he loved books and it made him want to write," Barbara said. "What he loved about journalism was the writing."
Heckathorn arrived in Hawaii in 1976 as an assistant professor in the University of Hawaii’s English department, where he trained a generation of Hawaii journalists who took Heckathorn’s expository writing classes to hone their writing skills, Barbara said.
He had freelanced some articles to Honolulu Magazine at the time and was later hired as a full-time staff member, en route to becoming editor.
Over the years, Heckathorn appeared on radio and television and wrote for several other national and island-based publications, including a weekly column in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
But he developed a following chronicling the birth and evolution of Pacific Rim cuisine.
"He was not somebody who just went to a restaurant and said, ‘Thumbs up or thumbs down,’" Barbara said. "He understood the food and how it got there and what it took to prepare it. He could taste something and know what was in it. He learned a lot and knew a lot about food."
In the kitchen himself, Heckathorn always strived to prepare a better meal for those around him.
"Showing love to him was about preparing food for other people," Barbara said. "He would prepare a wonderful meal and taste it and say, ‘I think I can make this better next time.’ He always said that."
Heckathorn is survived by his wife, Barbara; daughters Jennifer DeGuzman of Brooklyn, Paige, who works for U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye in Washington, D.C., and Mallory, who teaches first grade at Pearl City Elementary School; and younger brothers Peter of Florida and Alex of Oregon.
Services are pending.