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Virginia Hechtman - Environmental Activist 1921 - 2015


Virginia Hechtman - Environmental Activist 1921 - 2015

By Brenda Adelman

She was beautiful, funny, smart, and gracious”, former Supervisor Ernie Carpenter’s words describing Virginia Hechtman, upon meeting her in 1971 as she campaigned for office of 5th District Supervisor.  He added, “Virginia was the first person in my life that provided and shared a vision of land use for other than development.”  In her mind, some places were off limits, and the coast must be protected no matter what!

Virginia Hechtman, Sonoma County Supervisor CandidateVirginia Hechtman Sonoma County Supervisor candidateBefore she ran for Supervisor however, and along with numerous Jenner residents who shared her vision and formed the Jenner Coastside Conservation Coalition that included Elinor Twohy, she fought a huge battle over the Willow Creek planned development and a 20+20 year gravel mining plan to dredge the Estuary. In 1970 there were 8,000 acres to be developed on both sides of the river. 

The plans showed 40-foot lots with condominiums along Goat Rock Road, a golf course, a sewer plant on the coastal terrace with the sewer outfall at Shell Beach, and a shopping center and Safeway at the intersection of Highways 1 and 116 (Bodega Bay Navigator 1989).  Willow Creek was part of the high-density (1,100 acre, 2,000 unit) housing development planned by Jenner Bay Corporation.”  (Willow Creek Watershed Management Plan:  March 2005: pp.29-30)

The Jenner community was strongly divided on this project, according to Elinor Twohy, with most of the established long-time residents supporting the development that would bring new economic opportunities.  Those who had come to the area more recently or who owned vacation homes, insisted on preserving the extraordinary environment where the Russian River met the sea.  The Jenner Community Club felt so strongly about supporting development, that new applicants who opposed the gravel mining or development project were not allowed to join.

Elinor and Virginia bonded immediately when they first met on the Jenner beach, two women with children and husbands who considered themselves housewives at that point in their lives (Virginia had been in the military after college however).  This was a transformative moment for both of them, and they knew they had to fight for what they loved.  Even years after the battle was ultimately won, they both received death threats that luckily never materialized.

Virginia was the main organizer of the Coalition; she was a motivational speaker who enticed the likes of Ralph Nader, John Tunney, and Dr. Cadet Hand, director of the Bodega Bay Marine Lab for many years, to speak out for Goat Rock beach.  Elinor admired Virginia’s ability to speak forcefully, with deep conviction and heartfelt emotion, while emphatically challenging many details in the plan.  First and foremost, Virginia lived her values, and once warned Elinor she would make a big fuss if the latter installed a satellite dish on her coastal property.  Elinor complied.

Jenner Estuary at Goat Rock © Vesta Copestakes


Tom Roth relates the following story about Virginia.  “Some years before moving to Jenner, Virginia lived for a time in Saudi Arabia, where husband Bill worked for an international telephone firm.  Virginia said that she appreciated Saudi culture, and their general respect for women, but couldn’t abide by rules which limited women’s roles, such as a ban against women driving.   So on at least one occasion, Virginia took matters – or the steering wheel – in her own hands, disguised herself as a man, and hit the Saudi roads.”

Virginia's grandson, Reno Hechtman, relates that Virginia traveled with Bill to many countries where she committed to learning the language and customs rather than just indulge in tourist pleasures.  Her experiences in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, mostly during the ‘70’s, had a deep and lasting impact on her. She never shied away from difficult subjects, and insisted on them being faced, confronted and examined, for this was the only process by which they could be overcome.  She always emphasized the interconnectedness of the world, with beautiful places and beautiful people, all deserving equal protection and our respect.

Virginia did so much, and this obituary is only a snapshot of who she was and the impact she had.  She battled against off shore oil drilling, and for coastal preservation, for trails, and creation of the Coastal Commission.  She fought Santa Rosa’s ever-increasing river discharges. She fought to stop State Parks from turning Goat Rock into a RV parking lot and thereby helped establish Citizen’s Advisory Committee for State Parks, of which she became a member, and then much more….. 

Personally, I admired her greatly; she was my mentor and I will never forget her powerful impact on all I value and hold dear.  Thank you Virginia.


NOTE from Editor: Virginia’s family has asked that donations in her memory be contributed to the Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC), P.O. Box 501, Guerneville, 95446 in her honor because this organization has been instrumental in carrying on the environmental stewardship she valued and fought for throughout her life.  Thank you