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A Celebration of Life
Date of Birth July 11, 1953
Date of Passing January 14, 2019
Mark Joseph Heffernan
from Chevy Chase, Maryland, United States
Mark Joseph Heffernan died on January 14, 2019, in Chevy Chase, Maryland after a valiant 28-month battle with glioblastoma. During all stages of his illness, he showed remarkable courage and grace. Throughout, he was also enveloped by love and unwavering support from his wife, Ana-Maria, his children, Yvonne (David) and Paul (Jackie), his grandchildren (Keira, Ty and Shane Mark), his mother (Dorothy), his sister (Donna) and brother (Mike), his aunt Peg and uncles Bob, Elmer and Jimmy, other members of the extended Heffernan family, his mother-in-law Sonia, his brothers-in-law Ivan and Francisco, and many, many dear friends across the planet.
And for good reason. Mark made the world a far better place by virtue of his unrelenting intellectual curiosity, his maturity and quiet wisdom, his love of history, and his integrity and honesty. He also had a wonderful sense of humor and a keen appreciation for observing human nature across cultures. Of his many endearing qualities, Mark was a real gentleman—honorable, respectful, calm, thoughtful, cultured and worldly. A class act.
Above all, Mark was a fiercely devoted father, family member, and husband. As a young father, against the odds, he succeeded in safely removing his two then-toddler children, Yvonne and Paul, from the profound instability in Chad and in raising them here in the United States. From the early days in Africa to the present, Mark was exceedingly proud of them. Both have now found their own loving partners and have started their own families, and Mark was overjoyed to be blessed with three grandchildren.
As a family member, Mark much valued his time with his mother, his siblings, his uncles and aunt, and his cousins and their children. He also loved it that his wonderful Aunt Peg could join Ana-Maria and him for so many interesting trips--bicycle, Safari, and otherwise--and enjoy special times together. He soon earned the reputation of master turkey carver at Heffernan Thanksgiving reunions, during which the family would spend precious time together, and family and friends alike would watch in awe as he performed his magic.
And as a devoted husband, Mark had a deep and extraordinarily meaningful marriage with Ana-Maria, who he loved very, very deeply, for more than a quarter century. As Mark Twain once put it, “No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.” Mark and Ana certainly knew that love. They especially enjoyed traveling together, taking extended bicycle tours in venues across the world, living in Cape Town during Mark’s Mothers2Mothers commitment, taking hikes, enjoying good restaurants, and slowly soaking in the countryside life in southern France. Above all, they simply enjoyed every minute together.
Born July 11, 1953, Mark developed early in life what would become career-long twin commitments to international development and financial management. They would lead him to found and guide two successful international ventures and to serve as an executive in two major health-related organizations.
After graduating from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in 1975, Mark’s decision to become a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer would foreordain his worldview, enable many wonderful lifelong friendships, and define his career trajectory. With French-language capacity already in hand and some crash study of Chadian Arabic, the regional colloquial spoken in Chad, Mark set off with other volunteers on the remarkable assignment of drilling water wells on the searing-hot sand dunes on the border of the Sahara.
This phase of Mark’s life was chock-full of adventures, most wonderful and exhilarating and a few very dangerous—including the time that Mark was part of an informal team during the Chadian civil war that managed to rescue four embassy employees caught in the war zone. In a Foreign Service Journal article entitled “Evacuation from N'Djamena” (Jul-Aug 1980), Patricia Norland documents how “with lights on and white flags flying (though barely visible), [USAID Tom Murray and “Hefty” Heffernan] proceeded through the town, past three checkpoints… encountering fire. Minutes later, [with the four employees,] they reached the safety of the air base.” “Three weeks later,” writes Norland, “N’Djamena lay in ruins, at least 80,000 Chadians had fled across the Chari River to Cameroon and fighting continued in the stricken city.”
These experiences were at the core of the deep and longstanding affection Mark developed for many African countries that would stay with him for the rest of his life. He devoted his professional life to actions designed to promote economic growth and development there. His early career included extensive consulting work for USAID, during which he earned a business degree at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Later he assumed a senior management position at JHPIEGO, an international non-profit health organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, where he oversaw financial strategy, management and international operations for global health programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Late into his career, Mark would devote his energies to Mothers2 Mothers, the innovative non-profit group that employs HIV-positive women across Africa as community health workers, and to AgeWell, a new model of elder care coordination combining peer-based engagement and mobile technology to improve health.
No doubt about it, Mark was an unabashed Francophile. He spoke excellent French, relished the regular stints that he and Ana-Maria took in southern France, savored taking daily treks to the boulangerie and talking up the clerk as he bought a warm baguette, tasted—and then re-tasted—countless different vintages of French wine (including his very favorite Vacqueyras), and loved to explore one small village after the next, including their churches, memorials, and cafes, either by foot or in the rented Peugeot with specialized red license plates that always caught the attention of curious locals.
In Chevy Chase, Mark loved his life with Ana-Maria and the children. They made a caring home for themselves in the Jones Bridge house, from which Yvonne and Paul eventually broke away to establish their own families, and more recently Mark and Ana-Maria were excited to build and move into a new townhome. With the important help of their wonderful cats—from Sheena to Ginger to Harley—they have made each one of the addresses a very warm and special place to be. During the weekends, Mark and Anna-Mara loved biking all about the region, hiking various trails, and pinpointing new and interesting cafes and restaurants.
Mark became a devoted fan of regional sports teams, starting with the Washington Redskins during the glory days under coach Joe Gibbs, and the Baltimore Orioles when they relied on legends such as Cal Ripken. In the last stages of his life, he became an enthusiastic fan of the Washington Nationals and attended many games. His unassailable love for the Capitals paid off last year when the team finally won the Stanley Cup. Mark watched it all happen from a little village in southern France, Domme, waking up in the middle of the night to witness the spectacle with a smile from ear to ear.
Mark was a seasoned observer of global political developments, and throughout his life developed a strong belief that many of the current instabilities were the result of widening social inequalities. He was a voracious reader—of non-fiction—and especially enjoyed well-researched biographies and history-related books.
Although the glioblastoma cut short his life, Mark had a very full life filed fulfilling relationships, friendships, experiences, and accomplishments. Simply put, he was an inspiration throughout his life—from husband and father and relative to friend and colleague, from Peace Corp Volunteer to corporate leader to organizational advisor, from culinary bon-vivant to enthusiastic bicyclist, Mark left a profound impact with all of us.
He will be remembered with much love.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the American Brain Tumor Association
(8550 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue, Suite 550, Chicago, IL 60631). Online donations can be made here: https://www.abta.org/ways-to-donate/.
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