For countless Long Island Lutheran High School students, Audrey Hebling, a former model, NASA scientist and physics teacher, is the reason they succeeded.
“She was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a hero,” said Georgi DeMartino, 24, of Oyster Bay, who graduated in 2011.
“If you put the effort in, she would push you along,” even if physics did not come naturally, she said.
Hebling, affectionately called “Doc,” died Monday in a fire that broke out in her Queens home, according to the New York City Police Department. She was 82.
She was found unconscious in the kitchen of her Bellerose Manor home after an electrical fire, police said, and pronounced dead at the scene.
Emailing the school community to announce her death “with great sadness,” John Buck, head of the school, said:
“ ‘Doc’ has impacted the lives of hundreds of students over her career at LuHi. She was my physics teacher as a senior and I have many wonderful memories of our years together.”
Hebling would stay hours after school, ensuring her students mastered the lessons and labs.
The exemplary teacher’s generosity of spirit and enthusiasm for helping students were far from limited to physics.
Malachi Davis, 26, of Bellmore, Class of 2010, recalled that as a senior he feared his struggles with calculus might prevent him from graduating.
Hebling volunteered to tutor him over lunch. All year.
“That’s when we really ended up building a tight relationship, spending our whole lunch period together,” Davis said.
“Doc broke math down in such a simple way, I was like, ‘How come everybody doesn’t teach this way?’ ”
“I think she was good at realizing a person’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.
Hebling initially embarked on a career in fashion after attending the Barbizon modeling school and booking a number of advertisements.
Told she was not tall enough for runway modeling, and instead could appear in advertisements for household items like refrigerators, Hebling closed that door and pursued science.
Earning her doctorate, she became one of the first women to work for the Sperry Gyroscope Corp., where she was involved in projects like building NASA satellites and creating crystals for broadcast television.
Hebling, however, not only never rested on her laurels, she made light of them.
“Maybe the first day of class, she would say, ‘I’m going to debunk some myths for you,’ ” said Stephanie Miller, 26, of Massapequa, Class of 2010.
“ ‘Yes, I worked for NASA. Yes, I’m designing my own clothes,’” she recalled “Doc” saying. She would then conclude by saying,
“You can be anything you want to be.”
Davis said Hebling’s passion for teaching stemmed from her love for the students.
“The highlight of her day was to come in and interact with the kids,” he said.
Just two years ago, Hebling was perhaps the most popular dance partner at the senior prom.
Clad in a teal dress with a shimmering silver shawl and crystal-encrusted glasses, she took a few of her students for a spin around the floor, saying, with a bright smile: “I love to dance.”
She was praised by her pupils, who learned everything from the ins and outs of nuclear reactions to the importance of pulling shoelaces tight.
So beloved was Hebling that DeMartino said she plans to name her children after her.
“She was just such an inspiring person,” DeMartino said. “She put everything she had into everything she did.”