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Pioneer Futurist Hank Koehn Dies at Home From AIDS

October 01, 1987|BOB SIPCHEN | Times Staff Writer

Last February, Hank E. Koehn, a pioneer futurist in the banking industry, found himself facing a future dimmer than he'd ever projected. The diagnosis was AIDS.

Tuesday evening at 11:30, Koehn, 54, died in the Montecito Heights home he shared with his lover. But his friends and colleagues say that the way he faced that death--including his straightforward essay on his struggle with the disease which appeared in The Times ("My Passage Through AIDS, Aug. 14) and publications around the country--may make life easier for others afflicted with AIDS. It has certainly helped the business and banking world to understand the future in the era of AIDS, they said.

In his essay, Koehn wrote about the courage and spiritual insight he had gained from his struggle. But the chairman of the Trimtab Consulting Group and former vice president and director of the futures research division of Security Pacific Bank also expressed anxiety about how his professional associates would react to learning about his way of life and his disease. He wrote of the terrible fear of abandonment faced by many gay men afflicted with "the leprosy of the '80s."

The first phone call in reaction to Koehn's revelations came at 6:45 on the morning his story appeared in The Times, and the calls didn't stop for a week and a half, said his lover, Jim Hill. Letters are still arriving from Cleveland, Baltimore, Boston and New York, Hill said.

One letter, from Arcadia, conveyed the writer's disgust at Koehn's way of life. Four hundred or so other letters have offered prayers, compassion, and thanks to Koehn for helping the writers understand the disease, said Hill.

"I thought it was a very brave thing he did in writing that essay," said William Zimmerman, the editor of New York-based "American Banker," which published the story earlier this month. "Hank said he thought it was important to educate and sensitize people to a big problem that was growing bigger. He felt that banks were putting their heads in the sand in thinking no one on their staffs would get AIDS."

Banking Industry

"He was considered one of the prime futurists in the banking industry," Zimmerman said, adding that Koehn's insistance that bankers look beyond the narrow focus of the financial world to the influence of broader issues such shifting demographics and the changing role of women in the work force had altered the way banking is done.

Koehn attended NYU and Columbia University. He moved to Los Angeles in 1967 from his hometown of Newark, N.J., and has lectured on futurism at universities around the country, including USC, UC Irvine and Pepperdine.

"This guy was unbelievable. He had a remarkable right side of his brain," said Jeffrey Kutler, a reporter for American Banker. ". . . He was able to think technologically then translate it into lay terms."

In particular, Kutler remembers a 30-minute cab ride he shared with Koehn "seven or eight" years ago. "He expanded on some technological concepts in banking and where they might lead. I found it inspiring. I never forgot it." "I can tell you he was one of the finest speakers we've ever used in our seminars," said Virginia Corsi, director of the Institutional Investor Institute in New York. "He excited the audience with his clarity and his humor and his visions."

When Koehn told Corsi about his disease, he also told her "how he took all that energy and problem solving ability and applied it to his life and to (helping) those like him.

"It was the first time I've seen someone take their personal and professional skills and use them (to create) such great potential for the future," Corsi said. "Even in his dying . . . he affected so many people . . . by the way he dealt with his gayness and his own death notice to the world."

Sharing His Story

"That was one of the things he wanted to happen with the article," said Hill. He hoped that "because of it some other people wouldn't have to experience (AIDS) alone. It wouldn't be so difficult," for them.

Hill remembers "one woman, an elderly lady, who called and said she never understood how two men could care for one another that way. After she saw the photo, she understood. She's continued to call."

"To take care of a person (with AIDS) is a gut-wrenching, back breaking, 24-hour-a-day job. But to me, the price of not doing that would have been my soul."

In lieu of flowers, Hill requests that contributions be made to the Shanti Foundation, 9060 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 301, West Hollywood 90069; (213) 273-7591; or AIDS Project Los Angeles, 3670 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 300, Los Angeles 90010; (213) 738-8200.

Plans for a memorial service are pending.

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