To many of us, Duvall Y. Hecht was more than a coach. He was a mentor and an inspirational leader whose words and wit propelled many of us into becoming who we are today. Erudite but rugged, he was always ready with a quote about life, whether from one of his own mentors, master boat builder George Pocock, or someone of great historic stature like Winston Churchill. After all, Duvall was not only well-read, but he also helped bring audiobooks into the mainstream with his company, Books on Tape.
Duvall pulled the rowing program into existence back in 1965 and then kept it moving year after year after year with the same dedication and vigor that he demanded of his rowers — stroke after stroke after stroke. Though he had removed himself from regular involvement in the program a few years ago, his absence is felt like a chasm. Indeed, it now takes a board of dedicated alumni in full swing to keep the program going, something Duvall seemed able to do almost single-handedly over the years.
Thank you, Duvall, for everything, every time.
Please consider leaving a tribute to Duvall in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Watch Duvall Hecht and Jimmy Fifer winning their heat and final race in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Duvall shares some thoughts on his performance in this gold medal victory below.
It isn’t how many strokes you take, but how effective they are.
Here is a remarkably well restored copy of a film George [Pocock] took in 1956 of our pair in Melbourne. It shows a number of different styles, and you can compare their effectiveness by the results.
Fifer and I were generally three to five beats lower than the competition. It isn’t how many strokes you take, but how effective they are. What made our stroke effective? Couple of things …
First, we put everything we could into each stroke … lots of effort, sure, but no more than anyone else. The difference is that technically, with oars close to the water and with the roll-up being the final part of the extension for more reach, we got a lot more water to work with.
I can’t emphasize too strongly how important “with oars close to the water and with the roll-up being the final part of the extension for more reach” is to maximizing a crew’s effectiveness. You can see how carefully we approached the catch. The connection with the water was at the speed we were moving, and when the oar took its hold on the water, we began the acceleration. Absolutely no lost motion or wasted effort … no cavitation. Nothing interfered with the run of the boat … no vertical motion whatsoever.
We also carried the work as far as we could into the bow. Something in physics about that, about power applied over distance, in this case distance being the arc of the oar through the water.
We let the boat get all the run it could out of each stroke. By rowing two or three beats higher, the competition cut off the run. But first you have to boost the effective power in the water.
Everyone is equally fatigued at the end of a race, so it isn’t just effort. It’s effort effectively applied.
You can see the Russian pair, our chief competitor, and how short they are in the water. They approach the catch with their oars high off the water and then smack the catch hard with their oars … to my eye, they miss a ton of water, and their only recourse is to row at a higher rate, which compounds their problem.
Everyone is equally fatigued at the end of a race, so it isn’t just effort. It’s effort effectively applied.
Chicken Feed and Fast Boats
or, How Chance Opportunities and the Stars Aligned to Create Our Rowing Program at UCI
They know something about themselves that they didn’t know four years earlier. What they know is that nobody will ever give them anything they can’t do.
by Duvall Hecht
Act I: Dan Aldrich
In 1952, when I was a senior at Stanford, the Western Sprints were held on the north Lido Channel. We didn’t win the race, but it was the nicest of water I had ever rowed on. “Someday,” I thought, “there will be a collegiate crew here and it will be great!”
Fast forward 12 years to 1964. UCI was a still a bean field, though the first bulldozers were beginning their work, and the new chancellor, Dan Aldrich, had set up his office in a temporary building on what would soon be the campus.
A friend invited me to a Cal Alumni event, where Dan spoke, and where I met him. He knew the value of athletics and spoke about their importance at this new branch of the UC. A few days later I called to ask for an appointment to talk about crew.
Dan was a very impressive man – big, ruggedly handsome, outgoing, perhaps in his mid-40s. At Brown University he had been a track and field athlete – discus, shot put and javelin – and then served in the Navy during WWII. He was Chancellor at UC Riverside before coming to UCI. At our meeting, Dan patiently heard me out. He told me a number of others had suggested crew at UCI, thanked me for my interest, and sent me on my way. I thought, “Well, that’s it. I’ve had my 30 minutes.”
A couple of weeks later, after a Friday business trip to San Francisco, I was at SFO waiting for my flight home. Those were the days when you walked across the tarmac out to the plane. Dan Aldrich was the furthest thing from my mind when I looked up and saw him a little way ahead of me, headed for the same airplane. I put on some speed, caught up, reintroduced myself – and sat down next to him for an uninterrupted hour and a half.
He was returning from a meeting at Cal, where he had given a presentation to the Trustees. He had a beautiful oversize portfolio, full color renderings, bound in Morocco leather, one for each trustee. Dan let me examine his copy. I thought, “Wow! So that’s how the big boys do it!”
To be polite, Dan asked if I had any further thoughts on the rowing program at UCI. He probably regretted it, because it opened the floodgates. An hour later, as we stepped off the airplane, Dan, probably thinking he was at last getting rid of me, said, “Well, if you’re so sure that’s what should be done, why don’t you give me a written plan?” In other words, “Get out of my ear!” But he had just handed me the keys to the kingdom, because I saw what a big boy presentation looked like, right?
I spent the weekend on my faithful Remington typewriter and created a 25 page proposal, complete with drawings, lay out, boathouse dimensions, cost estimates, recruiting ideas, salaries for coaches and riggers, racing schedules and equipment needs, and put it in the nicest folder I could find – not quite Morocco, but close – and took it to him on Monday.
A few days later I met with him again. “That’s all you need?” he asked. “That and water and the young men, which won’t cost you anything,” I told him. “Okay,” he said, “you’re my guy.” I said, “What does that mean?” He said, “You go out and raise the money!” I staggered, so he smiled and added “Whatever you raise, I’ll match it.”
Now that’s a sporting proposition! So I called all my friends for help. I was asking for $1000 and needed 25 takers. The $1000 could be spread over three years. That sort of money meant something in 1964. In the event, when it was doubled by Dan’s contribution, it paid for the boathouse, three eights, a coaching launch and a training barge, plus 36 oars.
Act II: Bill Boland
The next problem was where to build the boathouse? Even in those days it was hard to find property on the water in Newport Beach. I tried half a dozen leads with no results. Then a friend who lived down here suggested I check out Shellmaker Island. He said the man who ran the dredging operation there was named Bill Boland.
Shellmaker Island got its start in the early 1900s when Redlands, Riverside and San Bernardino were the chicken and egg capitol of California – no thought then of “Inland Empire!” It was home to a modest dredging operation which scoured the bay for clamshells. The clamshells arrived at the island destined for the mill, still in operation in 1964. The mill reduced the clamshells to grit. Why?
Chickens require grit for their gizzards to grind up their feed. At the same time, if the grit provides calcium for the egg shell, you get a twofer. There is no better source for grit and calcium than ground-up clamshells. From there it is just a step to see what’s coming – the mill bagged the grit and labeled the bags “Shellmaker,” as in egg shells – thus, Shellmaker Island. When Bill Boland bought Shellmaker, Inc. after World War II, the migration from Los Angeles was just beginning. Every waterfront home wanted a dock, which of course required dredging. Bill’s was the only dredging operation on Newport harbor, and his work shifted from grit for chickens to docks for millionaires.
When I first met him, 1964, the island was completely wild. The mill, hardly ever used by this time, stood across a large open space from the four sheds that served as office, tool room, shop and storage room. The sheds were typical California construction – uninsulated bat and board – the roofs similarly constructed and covered with tar paper. For air-conditioning, you opened the windows, and for toilets, you used the outhouse. It was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. You could hear the rain pound on the roof. It was heaven!
It was also an ecological paradise before ecological became an excuse to beat up on people. Old pumps, cables, pontoons, rusty pipes, crane extensions, decomposing rowboats that had served their time, lay off in the weeds and provided shelter for the bunnies. The irony is that with the transfer to Fish and Game and their Taj Mahal airplane hangar to house half a dozen cops and bureaucrats, the island became less hospitable to its critter population but better suited to the image DFG people have of themselves. However, that dismal event lay far in the future.
On my first visit, Bill Boland invited me into his office, which he shared with Johnny Jones, his bookkeeper. Johnny’s father drove the toilet truck that serviced the outhouse. Nobody gave themselves any airs. Informality was Bill’s style. He wore khakis, ankle boots, short sleeve shirt open at the neck, no jacket. He smiled, leaned back in his chair: “What can I do for you today?” Before I answered, I noticed half a dozen pictures behind him, all of the F4U, the gullwing Corsair, symbol of Marine Corps aviation during World War II. And there was Bill standing in the pictures with his squadron mates around him. “My God,” I thought, “I’m talking to a Marine pilot.” In 1964 I was still a weekend warrior with the Marines, and what’s more, I had flown the Corsair! This was made in heaven! (And it was about to get better!)
“Bill,” I said, “you were a Marine pilot! I am too!” “OK,” he said, “but you probably don’t have any time in the Corsair.” “Actually, I do – ten years ago, when I was at Cherry Point, Joe McPhail brought the Minneapolis reserve squadron there in Corsair’s and let me check out in one.” “Joe McPhail?” said Bill. “Joe was my wingman in the South Pacific!”
When we finally settled down to talk about what had brought me to Shellmaker Island, we were best friends. He showed me around the island and asked where I would like to put the boathouse. We walked the outlines of what would be our sublease.
As I got ready to leave, he said, “If I let you do this, can I get rid of you if I don’t like having you around?” And I said, “Sure, but will give you no reason not to like us.” And he said, “Okay. I’ll call you and let you know.”
The next day, Bill called to say that it was ours, but that he would need about a week for the lawyers to write up the agreement. Ten days later I picked it up for Dan Aldrich to sign, and took the autographed copy back to Bill. He took it to the Irvine Company, because they owned the island, which Bill leased from them.
The vice president to whom he handed the lease looked at it and said, “Bill! Don’t you know you need our permission before you make a sublease?” Bill said, “Sure I do. I was just afraid somebody would say no.”
“I was just afraid somebody would say no,” so Bill went ahead and did it anyway. Imagine trying that on a bureaucrat on the Coastal Commission or a timeserver at Fish and Game!
Bill helped us every step of the way. He built the boat racks in the boathouse. He put in water and electricity. He added the lighting. He brought the crane over to put up the flagpole. He dredged out our docking area. He bulldozed a level area for our parking. We had a 25 year honeymoon, then the Irvine Company gave the property to DFG, and the rest is history
Bill and I remained friends till the day he died. To look at him you wouldn’t think it, but he was a fine musician, a pianist. He had a Bosendorfer Grand which he gave a good workout every couple of weeks with a group of fellow musicians. He would fix dinner for everyone, the bourbon flowed freely, and they had music for dessert.
After the island was transferred to DFG, Bill moved to Petaluma and then to Inverness, where he retired. He built a house in the redwoods, halfway down a ravine where a creek flowed year- round. Steelhead came up it in the spring to spawn in the headwaters. As he grew older, he built a guesthouse to live in and, as he had no children and his idiot wife had left him, he gave the main house to his nephew. He loved living there, in the shade, in the cool, with his Bosendorfer and books for company.
Bitterness had no part of Bill. He always remembered the good. “I’ve had plenty of sunshine in my life,” he said, “and now I’m happy to be here where it’s cool and shady.” A year or two later his nephew’s wife came down to his house to give him the newspaper. He always enjoyed reading it with his morning coffee. The coffee was there, steaming in a mug by the window, and Bill was there too, stretched out on the floor. His work was over, and the UCI crew lost one of the best friends it ever had.
Act III: UCI Crew
When you strip it to its core, rowing is about the men, the water, the boats and the coaches. That’s it. You can have great circumstances for the flourishing of a crew, and you can have terrible, but the circumstances don’t make a great crew – you do. You can complain about anything and everything. It’s profitless. It is what it is.
When you put the boats in the water, when you go out on the bay at 5:00 AM, you can’t blame anybody or anything if you don’t do the best job you can. You flush all the negatives out of your mind, and as a coach you demand the men do the same. They learn that rowing, like life, is a game that’s won between the ears.
It can only be won by focusing, focusing totally, on the job at hand. That’s what every coach at UCI, and really every rowing coach in the country, tries to do and tries to teach. The young men who get that message, who stick around long enough to find the sublime unity in a boat that moves well, and who after four years of rolling out of bed at 4:30 a.m. and showing up to row in the dark in any kind of weather, who remember the crunch of ice on the dock under their bare feet – they know something about themselves that they didn’t know four years earlier.
What they know is that nobody will ever give them anything they can’t do. And that is a terrific lesson to learn early in life, knowing with absolute certainty that whatever gets thrown at you, you can handle it.
So, do I love rowing? Do I love coaching? Listen. I was nothing. When I entered Stanford as a sophomore transfer, I found that freshman and sophomores were required to take a PE class.
Rather than play badminton, I tried crew. I was in the third boat all year, and if there had been a fourth, I would’ve been in it. No chance I’d row my junior year.
That fall, sucking down a Lucky Strike on the third floor of the Zete house, someone yelled “Hey Dewey, there’s a guy down here to see you!” So I bounced downstairs, very cool with the Lucky in the side of my mouth, and there was my rowing coach, Jimmy Beggs. Even though I didn’t plan to row anymore, I liked Jimmy was sufficiently embarrassed that I tossed that cigarette in the fireplace. Of course Jimmy had seen it. He stood at the door for a long minute, looking at me. Then he said, “You know, I thought you might have some potential and that I’d ask you to come back out for crew. But now, I don’t think so.” He turned and walked away.
Well, it may have been child psychology, but nobody treats me that way! So I showed up and rowed as a junior. For the first time in my life I trained. I got the idea of what crew was about. Beggsie had been a coxswain at Yale before he came to Stanford as a graduate student in 1949. He had taken a pair-with-cox to the 1948 Olympic trials. They came in second, and Jimmy promised himself he would find another couple of oarsmen in 1952 and make it to Helsinki. In the fall of my senior year, he asked me if I would like to try it with him. He said I could choose who I wanted to row with. There was no doubt in my mind that it should be Jimmy Fifer.
Jimmy Beggs brought a brand-new Pocock pair down from Seattle in January, 1952. Fifer built us a dock at Redwood City. We rowed every morning in eights out of the Stanford boathouse at Palo Alto yacht harbor, afternoons at Redwood City with Jimmy Beggs. We began to move the boat pretty well.
In July we went East to the Olympic trials at Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Massachusetts. We had never raced before. After going through elimination heats, we came up against the pair from the US Naval Academy. They had won the Eastern sprints championships and were undefeated through their competitive season. In the final race, we beat them by about a foot. It took 15 minutes for the judges to develop the film – the longest 15 minutes of my life.
So we won the American championship and made the Olympic team, thus realizing our goal. In Helsinki, we were eliminated in the semi finals. Did I learn something from that? You bet I did! We set our goal to win the American championship, which we did. Then we went to the Olympic Games, where we had no further goal, and where we failed.
But amazingly – no, miraculously – four years later Fifer and I got an opportunity to row again, this time in a straight pair. Jimmy Beggs, who was then at Penn coaching freshman, agreed to coach us. He did such a good job that we won a gold-medal in Australia.
How could that be? We were the same two people, same height and weight, as we were four years earlier. The difference was all mental. There was only one thing in our minds, and that was to overcome the shame of having lost. The shame! Failing is a wonderful motivation, because you cannot live there.
When I got the opportunity to coach at Menlo JC in 1958, I was on fire to pass my experiences on to a new generation of oarsmen. And tonight, as I look out at everyone in this room and see people from the founding crew at UCI to the most recent oarsmen, I feel blessed and grateful to God to have been connected in a vital, visceral way to young men who took to heart the lessons of rowing and made of themselves more than otherwise they would ever have made, had they not discovered as oarsmen what was possible for them to give, to take, to endure.
I am grateful for having been given the great opportunity and privilege of helping to create the UCI rowing program five decades ago. Even more, I cherish my time on the water as a coach, where I have tried to share the vision I inherited and the lessons I learned from the four great coaches who taught me how boats should move over water.
I thank you for your support, and now turn over to a new generation responsibility for the next 50 years of UCI crew, confident that its best years lie ahead.
This is an interview of Duvall by Samuel McCulloch, Professor Emeritus of History, UCI Historian, talking about Duvall’s founding of UCI crew, Books on Tape, his return to UCI in 1992, philosophy on the program, funding, coaching, etc. A lot of topics are captured in this interview with Duvall and are very much still applicable today.
Interview with Duvall Hecht
Collection: McCulloch (Samuel C.) Oral Histories
Owning Institution: UC Irvine, Libraries, University Archives
Date of access: February 24 2022 19:01
Text by Bill Butler from September 4, 2008.
When Duvall Hecht was asked to the podium to receive his 2002 induction to the UCI Athletic Hall of Fame, the 150+ rowers past and present in the audience rose to their feet in a sustained, standing ovation. They were honoring the man who had contributed so much to each of their lives as Coach and Director of Rowing at UCI; role model as an athlete, Olympic Gold medalist, leader, scholar, and entrepreneur; and his extraordinarily generous material support to the UCI program during almost four decades of service.
Those rowers were expressing their own gratitude and mirroring that of the full complement of 1,500+ UCI student-rowers who had pulled for the Irvine crews. They were from all 36 years of the Men’s Crews and 13 years of the Women’s Crews; spanned four decades of ages; ranged in education across the full breadth of university disciplines of science to fine arts to engineering to business; represented all facets of professions, careers and public service; and had traveled to UCI that day from all across the United States. All were linked as crewmates by their shared rowing experiences in the programs created and lead by the man for whom they were now standing.
Duvall was “present at creation” of the UCI campus in 1965 when, as a young man of 34, he made a personal appeal to Dan Aldrich, the first Chancellor of UCI, for rowing to be among the five founding sports. “Chancellor Dan” approved Duvall’s proposal and agreed to provide matching funds, up to a point. This act of cooperation started the two men on a path of close friendship sustained over the coming decades.
Duvall did all the “heavy lifting” for the program in those beginning years to acquire the property on Shellmaker Island for the crew base; to build the “temporary” boathouse and dock; to acquire shells, oars, and coaching launches; and to raise the money for all of it.. He also recruited the first student-rowers and served as head coach for the first four years of the program.
Under his leadership, the program was successful from the very start, with UCI recording wins against just about every West Coast university crew including the three perennial powers of UCLA, Cal, and Stanford, each then with larger enrollments and much longer rowing traditions than UCI. Those early successes have served as inspiration for all the crews that followed.
Duvall returned to the position of coach in the 1970s, 1990s, and the 2000s. In total, he has served as coach for 14 years, without financial compensation; Director of Rowing for 15 years; and head of the Rowing Alumni Association for 24 years. He has represented the Crew with his full vigor and charm to each of the seven UCI Athletic Directors, from Dr. Wayne Crawford in 1965 to Mike Izzi in 2008.
Duvall has also personally donated generously to the crews and coaches and, on occasions, “rode to the rescue” with material support for a program that was affected by strained budgets of the Athletic Departments and a still quite young alumni who often could contribute only their enthusiasm and encouragement.
You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.
But for the initiative, inspiration, leadership, and money from Duvall Hecht, the UCI Rowing program likely would never have been created nor served so well the student-rowers of the past four decades. For this, we express our deepest gratitude. For all of his accomplishments and generosities to the crew and others, we recognize and honor his extraordinary and exemplary life.
Duvall graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1948, the year before the enrollment there of Donald Bren, another who would subsequently make substantial contributions to UCI. As at UCI, Duvall (BHHS, ’48) has been inducted into that school’s Hall of Fame.
He attended Menlo College for one year (1948-1949) and then continued on to Stanford University where he first rowed and was a member of Stanford’s crews for three years.
As a harbringer of the future, a 1951 dual meet between USC and Stanford on Lido Channel first introduced a young Hecht to the beauty and rowing opportunities of Newport Bay.
At the start of the 1951-52 collegiate season, Jim Beggs, former Stanford varsity coach (1950 & 1951) and Yale coxswain (’49) , persuaded Duvall and Jim Fifer (stroke and #7, respectively, in the Stanford varsity) to spend the year training with him to race in the 2+ trials and compete at the 1952 Olympics. Both agreed.
Throughout their senior year, Hecht and Fifer rowed each morning as the stern pair in Stanford V8+ and each afternoon in the 2+ with “Beggsie”. As Duvall would later say, their row in the morning was for strength and intrasquad competition and their row in the afternoon was for technique and personal coaching.
At the end of the collegiate season, the Stanford varsity 8+ (without Hecht and Fifer) finished 4th at the 1952 IRAs in Syracuse, New York, losing to Navy, Princeton and Cornell (in that order) and defeating all other West Coast universities.
Several weeks after the IRA, Beggs, Hecht, and Fifer won the 2+ trials and later that summer competed in Helsinki, winning their heat but then losing several days later and failing to make the finals.
In the following years, Duvall and Jim Fifer stayed close, serving as jet pilots for the Marines and the Navy, respectively, both stationed in Florida.
In 1955, they resumed their Olympic path, but now in the 2-. They first trained in Florida and then relocated to Philadelphia to be coached by their former coxswain Jim Beggs who was now freshman coach at the University of Pennsylvania.
In late June 1956 on Lake Onondaga, NY, the two again won the Olympic trials in their event. They defeated by 6 boat lengths the favored 2- of Logg and Price from Rutgers University who had also been on the 1952 Olympic team and had won the Gold Medal in Helsinki. Defeating the reigning Olympic gold medal 2- was a good start on their approach to the 1956 Olympic games in Melbourne.
After the trials, Hecht and Fifer relocated to Seattle, Washington with fellow Stanford rowers Conn Findlay, Art “Dan” Ayrault and Kurt Sieffert (cox) who had won the 2+ trials. There they would train intensively on Lake Washington for 4 months under legendary coach and racing shell maker Stan Pocock, leading up to the November 1956 games in Melbourne.
In Melbourne, Hecht and Fifer dominated their event. They had the fastest winning time in the heats by 11 seconds. And, in the finals, they won the gold by defeating the 3-time European Champion 2- from the Soviet Union by 8 seconds.
Their 2+ training partners from Lake Washington also won Gold, and these two boats became the first Olympic medalists in the 50+ year history of Stanford Crew.
In the years immediately after Melbourne, Duvall completed his service in the Marines; was a commercial pilot for Pan American Airlines; completed a masters degree in journalism at Stanford (’60); taught at Menlo College, then a 2-year men’s college; and started a rowing crew at Menlo, sharing space in the Stanford boathouse. In 1960, Hecht’s Menlo College crew, composed of 7 novice rowers and one sophomore with a year experience, traveled to Philadelphia and placed 2nd in the V8+.
In 1961, Duvall got a job offer from the Dean Witter stock brokerage firm in Los Angles and moved with his family to Southern California to their new home in Newport Beach. For the next 9 nine years, he had a very successful practice at the firm. But the experience of the long computer between home and office, prophetically, challenged him to fill his time while driving and would generate one of his future entrepreneurial efforts.
In late 1964, Duvall found himself sitting next to UCI Chancellor Dan Aldrich on a commuter PSA airline flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Duvall and Chancellor Dan had previously met socially, arranged by a Stanford acquaintance of Duvall’s. But, before this short plane ride, they had never discussed UCI or intercollegiate rowing.
At that time, the Aldrich and the new UCI administration were striving to complete the buildings of the newest UC campus in time for the first students in the Fall of 1965.
During this flight, Duvall described the benefits of an intercollegiate rowing crew and outlined how such a program could be started. The Chancellor was sufficiently impressed with the 34-year-old Hecht that he committed to provide matching funds (up to $25,000) for the program if Duvall provided his proposal in writing.
Duvall, now a man who would always seize an opportunity, did so promptly. The chance meeting on the plane occurred on a Friday, and Duvall was at the UCI administration offices the following Monday with his proposal.
Social Media Obituaries
An Olympic rowing gold medalist later made a splash in audio books https://t.co/xQrBugENqt via @WSJ— James R. Hagerty (@JamesRHagerty) February 23, 2022
Duvall Hecht, whose daily grind to L.A. led to Books on Tape, dies at 91 https://t.co/4KIqLoVosj— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) February 19, 2022
Duvall Hecht, who popularized audiobooks as founder of Books on Tape, dies at 91https://t.co/xyLpBm81qD— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) March 2, 2022