The legendary journalist Pete Hamill, who passed away on August 5th at the age of 85, embodied the scrappy beauty of New York City like no other writer of his generation. “Whenever Pete came to speak at the Y, it was clear that he related to everyone in the building with deep humility — the maintenance staff, the audience, his fellow panelists on the stage,” recalls Director of 92Y Talks Susan Engel. “He was one of the best storytellers our city had, a national treasure who taught us as much about humanity as he did about journalism. He related to people from all walks of life with curiosity and the greatest respect.”
Hamill’s clear-eyed reporting and hardboiled lyricism animated and gave voice to a changing city. A Brooklyn-born, working-class son of Irish immigrants with a high school education who rose through the ranks of New York journalism and ultimately helped turn it into a form of art, Hamill was as eloquent about city politics, the Vietnam war, and his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers as he was about the genius of William Faulkner and the complexity of jazz.
“Every time I talked to Pete Hamill, he taught me something,” says Budd Mishkin, who interviewed Hamill on multiple occasions, including reflections on a changing New York City at 92Y in 2009 and 2013. “I’ve been blessed in my career to interview many thoughtful, kind, funny, smart New Yorkers — and beyond New York — but Pete’s at the top of the list.”
Hamill spoke at 92Y many times over the years — about alcoholism and his memoir A Drinking Life in 1994, the legacy of Frank Sinatra in 2015, and more. “Every time I’ve taken a seat at the 92nd Street Y since the 1960s, I’ve pulsed with anticipation,” he said in celebration of 92Y’s 145th anniversary last year. “Whether my seat was with a panel onstage or in the audience itself, at the end I always stood up smarter… inspired to do my own work better.”
The sentiment was mutual. “Even in that last video he did for us, when he was sick and couldn’t come to the building, he did it with his whole heart,” Engel said of that occasion. “He had an affinity for the history of institutions like the Y — the kind of place where Jewish immigrants could learn from the likes of Emma Lazarus. To meet someone who authentically embodied that belief in helping people get a leg up was inspiring. He looked at life and he made it a dignified journey for everyone he was writing about.”
Hamill’s voice is irreplaceable — but we're grateful for his decades of fearlessly beautiful writing, the impact he had on our city, and the wisdom he imparted on our community.