On May 23, 2019, Alma Hecht, our beautiful and beloved sister, friend, auntie, daughter, and artist made what she called her “leap to the light”. Her mind still free and strong, she left her body, which had so betrayed her for the last 12 years. Her extremely rare genetic disease Adult Polyglucosan Body Disease — APBD —was cruel. Alma, who had climbed mountains, explored jungles, hiked, swam, marched in protests, and traveled the world on her feet, increasingly lost all mobility. She, who loved to laugh, to joke, to make up words, nicknames, puns and witticisms, to spar, to explain, to engage as much in political discussions as in easygoing conversation, lost her ability to speak. She, who loved to cook and entertain, could no longer swallow without choking. She, who lived alone with her doting dog Moki in a home filled with art and color, managing her own business designing sustainable gardens, pruning trees, creating beauty, became totally dependent on 24/7 caregivers.
Daughter of an Academy Award-winning movie producer and a talented and creative mother with an eye for design, Alma spent her childhood in New York City and Los Angeles. She attended a Waldorf school, graduated Fairhaven College in Bellingham, WA, and received a master’s degree from the Conway School of Landscape Design in Easthampton Massachusetts
After working in the publishing world at Santa Barbara’s Ross-Erikson, Alma moved to San Francisco in the early 1990s. First working in the restaurant and food business Alma followed her passion and formed her own company, Second Nature Design, to work with clients throughout the Bay Area designing charming, personalized, imaginative gardens. She was an early believer and influencer in advancing sustainable landscape design. Alma rarely met a water hogging yard she did not want to remove and replace with native, drought tolerant, microclimate appropriate plants, shrubs and trees.
She became a Certified Arborist, volunteered with Friends of the Urban Forest and other community groups, wrote articles, gave talks, and was acknowledged in several books and featured in profiles in newspapers and magazines.
As Alma began feeling increasing weakness, fatigue, and loss of balance she had difficulty getting an accurate diagnosis. She underwent much continuing often painful testing until learning she had APBD, a disease without any known cure. Alma joined a clinical trial in Texas, exercised and swam, practiced yoga, hired trainers, and fought against the erosion of her life. As the disease kept progressing Alma experienced multiple bouts of hypothermia, infections, the inability to eat without choking, the loss of her ability to speak and swallow., many hospitalizations and finally hospice care.
In what turned out to be her last year, she moved back in June of 2018 to Santa Barbara to be closer to her brothers and settled in the Maravilla senior living community.
As the disease gathered speed and Alma’s condition became increasingly precarious, she faced each new struggle with grace and determination, always maintaining her lifelong wit and humor. “I’m fine with letting go,” she wrote in her blog (https://betterbranches.tumblr.com) in December 2018, “but I’m still curious—there are more paintings to make, ideas to explore, family moments to share, friends to see, plants to prune, books to read and more.”
Alma remained engaged. She was weak but went to art class working with pastels for the first time. Always an extrovert, she met new people. Her love of gardening never lessened as she tended a planter box on the grounds and created a delightful patio garden. She loved the flowering trees outside her window.
“I still have the freedom of my mind, heart and spirt. How blessed I am.” Her courage was inspiring. She will be missed by the many who cherished her.
Alma was preceded in her leap to the light by her father Harold Hecht, her step father Franklin Desser and her mother Gloria Buzzell Desser and is survived by her two brothers, Steven Hecht and Duffy Hecht, her step mother Martine Milner, and half siblings Harold Hecht, Adam Hecht and Rebecca DonVito, her partner of many years Jocelyn Cohen and her many loving friends in Santa Barbara, the Bay Area and around the world.
Donations in Alma’s name would be welcomed if made to:
APBD Research Foundation
2257 East 63 Street
Brooklyn, NY 11234
apbdrf.org-for online donations