Hershatter leaves legacy of writing, family and law
Editor & Publisher
Everyone on Longboat Key is simply a mere mortal.
That being acknowledged, those with divine gifts, those who stood at the top of their field whether it be law, business, sports or medicine, often choose Longboat Key as the place to spend their final years.
Is it Longboat Key’s beauty? Is it the feisty politics and residents? The beaches? The arts and Sarasota? The balmy weather without salted icy roads?
I like to believe it is a place where the smart and articulate and ambitious collide in a fusion that radiates throughout the community.
And then these interesting characters wind their lives down. Their passion and energy is shared and they pass and their loss creates a vacuum.
The death of Richard Hershatter last week on April 10 creates such a vacuum in the hearts of his family, his friends and those who were fortunate to spend even a small part of his 93 years.
In the beginning — the word
Hershatter became a major part of Longboat Key through his skill with language and the written word. His ability to combine wit with vitriol with graciousness was a part of Longboat Key News for more than 12 years.
After all, Hershatter was a Yale graduate — an English major and attorney. He went on to graduate from Michigan Law School and could argue with the best of them. The thing that stood out is he was not one of those sophist-like attorneys who love to argue and fight. Instead, everything in Hershatter emanated from a deeply felt position. It came from a core of belief. He cared, he was principled and he was relentless.
Hershatter wrote about politics at Longboat Key News. At first, the mandate to Richard Hershatter and his close friend at Banyan Bay and fellow columnist, Tom Burgum, was to keep it local. They were told, “Everything must center around Longboat Key. Nobody wants to hear opinions about national and international politics.”
Soon, they both complained that they could not write about beach sand and Town budgets and the minutia of Town Hall over and over. Fortunately, the mandate was lifted.
Hershatter penned more than 300 weekly columns — about a quarter of a million words — over the next 12 years on every topic imaginable — Obama, Healthcare, Trump, Marijuana, Rick Scott and on and on.
Dick also wrote mystery spy novels, five of which were published and one sold more than 100,000 copies.
Debates and probing questions…
Hershatter was full of life through his final years and even more significantly through his final days.
Even while going to dialysis three times a week, Dick was a member of the Longboat Key Breakfast Club and came each week to meetings up to the age of 93. He asked questions of Sarasota County officials and local business leaders and Longboat Key illuminati.
Hershatter would grill Longboat Key Commission candidates at election debates along with Burgum and asked the most pressing questions — even pushing one candidate for his position on abortion rights. The room silenced as the candidate struggled to answer in a moment that Trump resembled a decade later with Chris Mathews.
A classic New England moderate republican, Hershatter represented a rapidly disappearing species. He was a classic combination of fiscal conservatism and social responsibility with a bent toward individual freedom. The kind of Republican who evolved out of the party that once championed Civil Rights — long before evangelicals and the politics of New Republicanism and the Tea Party.
Hershatter was born on September 20, 1923 and like many of his generation he enlisted following the outbreak of WW II. He was awarded the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal and was a commissioned officer.
He focused his law practice of almost 50 years on municipal and public sector and labor law. He served on the local board of education, worked as a municipal attorney and also served on the Branford Republican Town Committee.
Hershatter finds love
One side of Dick Hershatter that remained constant was his love for his wife of 36 years, Mary Jane.
When they met, she was a psychiatric nurse and he was a practicing attorney in New Haven, Connecticut.
He met Mary Jane at a party and they talked for hours. Within three dates, Hershatter confided to his cousin, “I am going to marry her.”
Dick gave up his bachelor-sexual revolution-wild-middle-aged lifestyle and soon he and Mary Jane married in 1980.
Marry Jane said they would often fly in a Piper Cherokee airplane he was ½ owner of all over New England.
One time, Hershatter was flying through bumpy conditions and when he landed his wing clipped a cement mixer on the runway. Hershatter hollered at Mary Jane why she did not say anything about that cement mixer on the runway — “It was on your side of the plane!”
Mary Jane says she was relieved when he stopped flying.
Dick’s real passion was cars — Saabs, Bricklins, Maseratis, Bentleys, and a Rolls Royce. He called his Rolls a “work of art,” and Mary Jane said he dusted it off nearly every day.
Mary Jane recalls how Dick had her picture behind two pictures of his favorite cars in his wallet. One night he was showing his friend the cars and his friend remarked that he better get the order right. From that day on, Mary Jane’s picture went in front and the two cars followed.
Dick had a dry sense of humor and could vacillate between eccentric, intense and almost manic. Toward his final days, Dick was sitting in the hospital and after a minor health scare he said to Mary Jane, “I shouldn’t drive anymore.” She was relieved.
Then Dick said in complete seriousness, “I could hurt someone, or myself, or worse yet I could hurt the car.”
Hot and steamy affair
Second only to Mary Jane, Dick loved Longboat Key.
The couple bought a unit at Banyan Bay on Longboat Key in 1988 and Dick embarked on a steamy affair with the sun. He would set his watch and bake for hours each day, flipping over like a burger grilling in the sun. Mary Jane said he was light skinned but he would roast himself until he was near black. His dermatologist finally yelled at Dick and he stopped.
The couple would return to Clinton each summer and when they came back to Longboat in the fall, Dick always remarked, “You forget how beautiful it is until you get here.”
Hershatter was fiercely loyal to his Longboat friends — former Town Manger Bruce St. Denis and especially Tom Burgum and fellow columnist Hal Lenobel. When St. Denis ended his relationship with Longboat Key as Town Manager, Hershatter was outraged. When Lenobel died, he was visably shaken and upset. When Burgum passed last year, the loss was perhaps the greatest of all.
The big courtroom in the sky
Hershatter burst with energy right up to the end.
After all, Dick took up skiing at 50, wrote 300 columns after the age of 80 and had all the energy of his wife who was 18 years younger. His clarity and sense of humor stayed with him to his final moments. He left a note to his lawyer saying, “If you are reading this, I’m in the big courtroom in the sky where continuances are automatic and defaults never happen.”
On his final day, Dick watched “Meet the Press” as he did every Sunday morning. Then he went to the hospital with his wife, Mary Jane, whom was at his side. He told her he loved her.
Mary Jane said every single day they were married for 36 years he told her those very words.
“Even in the middle of a fight, he would tell me he loved me.”
Mary Jane paused when she said that and then she sighed and said softly, “He was an incredible husband.”
In addition to Mary Jane, Attorney Hershatter is survived by four children: University of California Professor Gail Hershatter and her partner, Dr. Grace Laurencin of Santa Cruz, California; Nancy J. Hershatter and her husband, Gerard Hinson, of Danbury, Connecticut; Dr. Bruce W. Hershatter and his wife, Andrea, of Atlanta, Georgia; Kimberly A. Kleiman and her husband Steven, of Ivoryton, Connecticut, and seven grandchildren, Sarah, Zachary (Frances Hu) and David Fang, Jeremy Hinson, Jessica and Justin Hershatter, and Tate (Alyssa Harris) and Sydnie Kleiman, and one great granddaughter, Mila Kathleen Kleiman. He was predeceased by a brother, Milton A. Hershatter and is survived by a sister, Beverly J. Brody of Rockville, Maryland.
There will be a private memorial service later in the spring. Dick requested no funeral and no flowers, but did say donations could be made to the charity of one’s choice.