He was Jumping Jack Flash. He was “Mick Swagger”. Wearing his mother’s purple leotard and tights (She was 5’5’’, while he was 6’3”) and an aluminum foil lightning bolt pinned to the front, he was like a rock god.
This was the same man who spent 22 years teaching at Watkins Mill High School. The same man who coached forensics and debate for “It’s Academic”, a show similar to a college bowl.
This was also the man who played for an adult kickball league and once tried out for Saturday Night Live. His name was Jay Hepner and he was unlike anyone you’d ever met.
“He was unique,” says his sister, Shoshana Brounstein, “He marched to the beat of a different drummer.
Hepner had a zest for life and wanted to try it all, “He didn’t care about money,” recalls Shoshana, “He just wanted to live.”
Hepner really didn’t care about the money. A Rockville, Maryland native, he graduated from the University of Iowa and quickly got started on his life, specifically spending a few years hitchhiking across the country.
“He would get on a bus, subway or in a car and strike up conversations with people. But he would always come back home just before football season to watch the Redskins,” laughs Shoshanna.
Jay always wanted to learn new things and people interested him, in turn, he captivated people.
“A producer [of one of the shows he worked on] said she would stop what she was doing and just watch what he was doing with kids.”
His students were equally as mesmerized, many keeping in touch long after they graduated.
Jay was also a born entertainer; besides his alter ego, Swagger, he could be found singing his own original music, like “Twinkies” and “Beer for Breakfast”.
Jay’s passion and love of life aided him when times grew hard. He was diagnosed with GIST in late 2007, the same year his father died. This burden weighed heavily on Jay and he set out to learn everything he could about GIST. After a lot of research, some time on Gleevec and four surgeries, Jay’s aggressive cancer got the best of him.
But he never stopped fighting, just 48 hours after meeting with his medical team at Johns Hopkins about receiving Sutent, Jay quietly passed away on September 26, 2010, with his brother, girlfriend and long-time friend by his side. He was 53 years old.
Besides Shoshana, Jay left behind a daughter, Shayna Mechia; mother, Rita; brother, Allen; a loving companion, Barbara Reed Martin and nieces and nephews.
But Jay is not gone, not to Shoshana, “I learned a lot about my brother after he died.”
One thing she learned is that Jay’s voice could be heard on one of the D.C.- area’s double decker buses. “I just need to find out which one!”