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Dr. Samuel J. Hessel died last September of pancreatic cancer. A radiologist by training, he gradually turned an interest in rare books into a second career as an antiquarian book dealer after his retirement from the medical profession in the mid-1990s. He later served on the ABAA board of directors as treasurer. 


Several ABAA members offered remembrances of Samuel Hessel:


Michael Thompson writes:

Dear fellow booksellers and all friends of Sam Hessel,

I feel that I must write a letter, but it is too hard. I still hurt too much.  I am envious of the ability of the writers of so many letters; They describe Sam so perfectly and give him so much praise and tribute that I can't imagine doing better. 

I too knew Sam for many years, practically from the beginning of his partnership with Jim Manwarren. Not traveling to Phoenix all that much, most of my experiences were at book fairs and over the phone. He was truly a very warm, giving man who seemed to have unlimited interest and compassion for other people. I never called him where he didn't inquire very genuinely, very seriously about my wife Kathleen and our partner, Carol. He truly cared. I am jealous of those who knew him more and had the pleasure of traveling with him. Our experiences were always shorter.

I first nominated Sam for membership on the Board and encouraged him when he doubted his right to be there. Of course he was perfect for any such position, and I know he served the ABAA very well, although I understand that he was outspoken on many unpopular issues. But those opinions he had I'm sure were well thought out, intelligent and always humane. That's the way Sam was. 

I think my favorite memory of Sam was seeing him play with the young Sam, the son of Scott Emerson, literally playing with him on all fours, carrying young Sam on his back. I couldn't help but ask why he hadn't gone into pediatrics, and he looked at me so genuinely and said "I just couldn't take it." I knew just what he meant, and I loved him for it. 

I was pushed into calling him on the day that turned out to be his last. He was too weak to hold the phone, so his wonderful wife Betty did it. She was so very enthusiastic about my calling that I had to go through with it, even though the words that finally came out of me in talking to him were not answered. Chic keeps telling me that it was good because he knew Sam understood how I felt. I sure hope so. 

He was a wonderful friend, mentor, and all-around great guy that I will never forget. It was an honor to know him and be his friend.



Sam Hessel & Bernie Rosenthal

Samuel Hessel (l) with Barney Rosenthal (r) in 2011.


Kevin Mac Donnell writes:

Since 1987 I've had the habit, maybe a bad one, of often typing in a thumbnail first-impression or assessment of a customer or bookseller when adding them to my database after a book fair or visit. My records are full of brief comments after the names of bookshop proprietors, like "chatty" or "nice guy" or "expert on VT ephemera" or "dresses worse than I do" and the like. These have sometimes been revised over the years, but for my own amusement I don't delete the original assessments. Some get better, some worse.

My original note on Sam, probably after some CA book fair, is "what a terrific human being!"  Now, what's so odd about this is that I'm never that nice in my comments, and I can't for the life of me remember now what the heck inspired that first burst of enthusiasm in jotting down my first impression of Sam. But there are no revisions that follow it, and I do remember why that is so.

It is difficult, very very difficult, almost impossible, not to shake a fist and curse a God who would allow bad things to happen to good people, and in this case visit pain on a good soul who gave no offense. I know all the theology and the medical side of it, but it's of no help at all. Anger burns away faith.

But I remember being angry one time at a book fair. I forget about what, of course! Sam strolled by and joked me out of it. I can't forget that! It's what good doctors do. So, I think of Sam now, and faith returns.



Dr. Samuel J. Hessel, 70, died September 20, 2015 of pancreatic cancer. He was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 9, 1945 to Charles and Evelyn (Lapedes) Hessel. He attended the Lubavitcher Yeshivoth in Brooklyn and graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York City. Sam attended Carleton College for three years before enrolling in medical school. 

He graduated from University of Rochester School of Medicine in 1968, and interned in surgery and medicine at the university's Strong Memorial Hospital. Sam served as a general medical officer for two years at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma. He trained in radiology at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston and then joined the faculty of the Department of Radiology at Harvard Medical School. 

In 1980 Sam and his family moved to Phoenix where he joined the small group of radiologists at Scottsdale Medical Imaging, Ltd. He, along with his partners, continued to teach, do research, and publish papers. 

In the 1980s Sam began selling collectable and antiquarian books by mail. In the mid 1990s he joined with his partner in the bookstore By The Book, and retired from medicine shortly before his partner died to become a full-time bookseller. Sam Hessel volunteered countless hours on the ABAA’s Board of Governors from 2007 to 2014. Among many roles he held, he was a thoughtful and conscientious chair of the Ethics Committee and responsible Treasurer. The ABAA’s staff adored Sam and Executive Director Susan Benne fondly recalls their many phone conversations discussing everything from their homes in Brooklyn, to children and families, and a mutual love of detective fiction. “Sam was a mensch."

Sam is survived by his wife of 50 years, Elizabeth "Betty," his daughters Mara (Michael) Liston and Karen Hessel (Isaac Rischall), and his son Charles Hessel. He leaves behind his beloved grandchildren Frieda, Molly, Zeke, and Marissa, but will always be with them.