They were one of those couples to whom the romantic clichés — made for each other, soul mates, love at first sight — seemed to genuinely apply. The night Aaron Rapport and Joyce Heckman met, accompanying friends to a bar, they wound up talking until closing time. The next day, Rapport called his mother.
“He said, ‘Wow, I just met this woman,’ ” said Rebecca Rapport of Bloomington. The two were nearly inseparable for the next 13 years.
“They were adorable — in a non-sickening way, but almost,” joked Heckman’s lifelong friend Alex Smuland of Dallas.
Their deaths, both of cancer, were only weeks apart, Rapport’s on June 27 and Heckman’s on July 24. July 5 would have been their 10th wedding anniversary. Both were 39 years old.
In their early years, they might not have appeared much alike, aside from standing out among their peers. Rapport grew up in Bloomington, a gifted child who, at age 2, identified the blimp overhead as a dirigible and who, in second grade, announced that he wanted to become a Supreme Court justice. Heckman was raised in Dalhart, Texas, a small rural town where she identified herself as an ardent feminist who loved makeup and stylish clothes and did not consider those interests the least bit contradictory.
By the time they met, while earning Ph.D.s at the University of Minnesota — his in political science, hers in apparel design and feminist studies — they had much in common. Both were funny, athletic and loved reading and writing. Together, they nurtured some shared interests. Doing crossword puzzles in ink. Going all out on Halloween with elaborate paired costumes.
Heckman was a huge fan of the heavy-metal band Metallica — she had the band’s logo tattooed on her back — and turned Rapport into one, too. She came to share Heckman’s love of cartoons, especially “The Simpsons,” which they frequently quoted in conversation. Rapport never developed Heckman’s devotion to fashion, but friends noticed he started dressing more sharply. They played a mean game of Scrabble. “The only people who could beat Joyce or Aaron were Joyce or Aaron,” his mother said.
They lived in Boston while Rapport completed fellowships at Harvard and the University of Virginia; and in Atlanta, where Rapport was an assistant professor at Georgia State University and Heckman taught at the Art Institute of Atlanta. They settled in Cambridge, England, where Rapport was a lecturer in the University of Cambridge Department of Politics and International Studies and a fellow of Corpus Christi College and wrote a book, “Waging War, Planning Peace: U.S. Noncombat Operations and Major Wars.”
Heckman’s cancer was diagnosed a year after they married, Rapport five years later. Even as their illnesses progressed, they continued working and staying active. When he was too weak to go into the office, Rapport talked to a student for hours in their living room. Heckman stood just long enough to speak at Rapport’s memorial service.
“It didn’t matter that I was going through treatment,” Heckman said. “I could be bald, lacking eyelashes and eyebrows and breasts. … He always wanted me to know how special I was to him.”
Once over lunch, a student said something about only living once. Rapport corrected him.
“You only die once,” he said. “You live every day.”
Rapport is survived by his parents, Philip and Rebecca Rapport of Bloomington, and a brother, Adam of New York. Heckman is survived by her parents, Paul and Irene Heckman of Dalhart; a sister, Connie Salas of Dalhart; and three brothers, Mark of Amarillo, Texas; Dennis of Flower Mound, Texas, and Larry of Houston. Services have been held.