By Ron Hayes
HYPOLUXO ISLAND — In 2005, Anne Heyman helped establish “Moral Voices,” a lecture series at Tufts University. The first speaker was a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, where 1.2 million children had been orphaned.
As she listened, Ms. Heyman was reminded of how the new state of Israel had built “youth villages” in the late 1940s to care for and educate the orphans of the Holocaust.
“People told her she was crazy,” her son, Jason Merrin, said. “And she was, a little. But she never believed in impossibilities.”
Ms. Heyman died of cardiac arrest Jan. 31 after falling from her horse during a masters riding competition at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington. She was 52 and had kept a home on Hypoluxo Island for the past decade.
Among her survivors are 500 students at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, where the first class graduated this year. Agahozo is a Kinyarwanda word meaning “a place where tears are dried,” and shalom is Hebrew for “peace.”
The school stands on 144 acres among the lakes and hills of eastern Rwanda, built with $12 million raised by Ms. Heyman, a frequent visitor whom the students revered as “Big Momma.”
The village was the crowning achievement in a short life devoted to others.
Anne Elaine Heyman was born in South Africa on June 16, 1961, and came to the U.S. at 15. She was active in Young Judea, a Zionist youth movement, and spent a year studying in Israel, where she met Seth Merrin, whom she married in 1986. Merrin is the founder of Liquidnet, an electronic trading marketplace that donates a percentage of its profits to support the village.
A graduate of Columbia University Law School, she worked in private practice for two years, then became an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, prosecuting white-collar crime. She quit to raise her children and devote time to philanthropy in 1994.
She was also chairwoman of the board of Dorot, which serves the elderly in Manhattan, and active with the Abraham Joshua Heschel school and the Jewish Community Centers of America.
“She taught us that if you set your mind to something, there’s nothing you can’t do,” her son, Jason, said. “You hear that a lot, but she lived it.”
Ms. Heyman also built one of the largest solar energy plants in sub-Saharan Africa, which also contributes power to Rwanda.
“My dad always made fun of her,” Jason Merrin said. “He’d say, ‘How much is enough? Haven’t you done enough?’
“I don’t think she believed in enough.”
In addition to her husband and son, she is survived by another son, Jonathan; a daughter, Jenna; and her parents, Sydney and Hermia Heyman.
A funeral was held Feb. 3 at B’nai Jeshurun in New York City.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you perform three selfless acts in her memory, and then ask each person you’ve helped to help three more.