WASHINGTON — Jerome Heckman, a lawyer who has been active in a wide variety of plastics industry causes for nearly 60 years, died this week of heart disease. He was 85.
Heckman started representing the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in 1954, and he was widely considered an expert on chemical safety.
In addition to SPI, Heckman represented numerous resin companies, processors and food companies over the years in their efforts to bring new resins and additives to market. Heckman also was instrumental in efforts to prevent bans on products including dry cleaning bags and plastic containers, and to introduce plastic pipe in key construction markets.
"Jerry Heckman had a tremendous impact on the plastics industry, and he will be remembered as one of the most influential people our industry has ever known," said SPI President and CEO William Carteaux. "His work with resin manufacturers, processors, regulatory agencies and legislators is responsible for much of the growth that several sectors of our industry have enjoyed over the last 50 years."
Heckman retired from his law firm, Keller and Heckman LLP in Washington, in the past decade, but he remained active on behalf of various plastics-related issues.
Heckman was a graduate of Georgetown University, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1948 and his law degree in 1953.
His association with the plastics industry came immediately after that, when he started working with Bill Cruse, known as "Mr. Plastics," who was then SPI's first full-time CEO.
"[Cruse] came to Washington to see someone in the law firm where I was working on radio and television issues because of a threat to the rights of plastic compression molders to use radio frequency preheating equipment," Heckman explained in a 2000 speech. "While we … were handling that issue with the Federal Communications Commission, other issues began to layer for SPI, and since Bill and I became an instant team — one of those 'chemistry things' that football coaches like to talk about -- I became the Society's general counsel almost at once, even though I stayed with my firm in Washington, and my client never left New York until about 1983."
"Over the next few years, working as a team with all of the SPI staff, Bill and I had to deal with a Justice Department threat to name SPI in a plastics pipe antitrust case, some very significant new legislation to subject plastic [and other] food packaging to stringent new Food and Drug Administration regulation, a variety of attacks on products like melamine dinnerware, and, the most celebrated debacle of them all -- the plastic-garment-bag, suffocation-deaths problem.
"On the side we established a vigorous transportation committee that worked hard to keep rates and ratings reasonable. Each of these matters had characteristics and complex elements of its own that have given me material for my own brand of war stories."
In 1962, Heckman and Joseph Keller founded Keller and Heckman.
Heckman long had an eye on plastics history and personalities. He relished his connections to many of the early leaders in the growing industry.
In 1986 he was one of the founding officers of the Plastics Academy, a non-profit corporation that took on responsibility for administering the Plastics Hall of Fame. Heckman also joined the Hall of Fame that year.
As he approached retirement, Heckman began to look back at his own role in the development of the plastics industry, and he received a variety of kudos for his efforts.
In 2000, he received the first William Bradbury Trophy for contributions to the plastics compounding industry from SPI's Color Additives and Compounders Division. That year he also received a Special Citation Award from FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, for "sustained and successful participation in the establishment of a new, fully funded system for FDA's approval of food-contact substances."
In 2001, Georgetown University presented him with the Paul R. Dean Distinguished Alumni Award.
In 2005 he was awarded the International Achievement Award by the International Society of Regulatory Toxicologists and Pharmacologists. In 2007, Heckman was inducted into the Packaging Hall of Fame at Michigan State University.
Heckman is survived by his wife, Ilona Ely Heckman, an Alexandria, Va., attorney; his two sons, Eric and Carey, and two grandsons.