He wanted the M&M;/Mars Co. to bring back red M&M;'s. So he ful but one that melts in your mouth and not in your hands.
And now his dream has come true. Red M&M;'s are coming back. The first red M&M;'s in more than a decade are expected to hit the stores this month, mixed in at a rate of one red candy to four of the other colors.
"All the associates at M&M;/Mars wanted me to be sure that you were among the first to receive this news," the company's external relations director wrote in a recent letter to Hethmon.
"I feel great that it happened," said Hethmon, 23, a commercial photographer in Knoxville, Tenn. "I'm surprised and happy. I didn't expect it. I thought it would take a few more years."
The M&M;/Mars Co. quit making red M&M;'s in 1976 when the Food and Drug Administration banned Red Dye No. 2 as carcinogenic. Though that wasn't the dye used in M&M;'s, the manufacturer felt the bad publicity would confuse consumers. This action left a bad taste in the mouths of many Americans. There were isolated protests but they soon ran their course. And life went on with only orange, green, yellow, light brown and dark brown M&M;'s.
Hethmon, then an eighth-grader in Union City, Tenn., decided he could not accept a world without red M&M;'s. He knew something had to be done. But what?
The answer came in his freshman year at the University of Tennessee, when he founded the Society for the Restoration and Preservation of Red M&M;'s, wrote an appeal to the M&M; Mars/Co., President Reagan and the FDA--and encouraged others to do the same.
The M&M; Mars/Co. thanked him for writing and said there was a possibility that red M&M;'s would be restored.
Letters Pour In
There were newspaper and magazine stories. Radio stations and television stations called. Charles Kuralt interviewed him.
Thousands of letters poured in from people from as far away as Sweden, Mexico, Canada, Belgium and Hong Kong.
A girl from St. Louis wrote: "Is my life worth living without red M&M;'s? This is the question I had often asked myself. For many years now, I have somehow managed to go on, thinking there was nothing I could do. One person against the world! But now I have a purpose, a meaning in my life. My life is meant to give re-life to the red M&M;'s."
How did Hethmon react?
"If I believed everything I read, I would think red M&M;'s would cure half the world's diseases," he said.
Most of the mail came from people who remembered the way it was, and felt that a bag of M&M;'s without red ones was something like the CBS Evening News without Walter Cronkite or the Three Stooges without Curly.
But he also heard from a class of third-graders from North Dakota and many others who were too young to remember red M&M;'s.
"It's been great that so many people cared enough to write letters in support of red M&M;'s, people who never saw red M&M;'s. It's been touching."
When supporters wrote Hethmon, he encouraged them to write the M&M;/Mars Co. in Hackettstown, N.J. "I thought it would be better for them to get letters from 20 different people than 20 different letters from me.
"The only reason they took red M&M;'s off the market was because of the controversy. So if enough people said they wanted red M&M;'s again I hoped they would put them on the market again."
"Good things happen to those who wait," M&M;/Mars said in its letter to Hethmon. The company had followed his organization with interest, the letter said. It also included a coupon for a couple of packages of M&M;'s. Hethmon said he was happy that he had made a difference. But he was also disappointed. "I was hoping that I would get the first bag of red M&M;'s."