Extraordinary, really

Pete Hamill photo by Peter Foley

By Terry Golway

Here’s the thing about Pete Hamill – he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. And there are countless journalists now of a certain age who will tell you the same thing – they worshipped the guy, maybe got into the business because of his columns in the Daily News, and when they met him for the first time, he greeted you like an old friend.

Extraordinary, really.

I don’t remember when I met him – it must have been in the late 1980s, when I was in my early 30s and trying to figure out how to cross the longest five miles in the world – the distance between Staten Island and Manhattan. The circumstances are as vague as the time line, but I do remember vividly that great baritone as he insisted that I call him “Pete” and not, as I had, “Mr. Hamill.”

Wait – Pete? I was now on a first-name basis with …. Pete Hamill? That simple fact validated all the planning council meetings and three-alarm fires I had been covering while a reporter on Staten Island. Now, through some astonishing stroke of luck, Pete Hamill was my friend.

He wasn’t really, of course. But he made me feel as though he was. In later years, when we worked on a few projects together – including a collection of journalism from the World Series between the Mets and Yankees in 2000 – I felt that, yeah, Pete Hamill and I were friends. By that point, I was wise and mature enough to realize that I was one of about a thousand journalists in New York who felt that way.

You will read a lot about his extraordinary talent now that he’s gone, and every word of it will be true. But his generosity was a match for his talent. He socialized with celebrities and talked through smart ideas with some of the greatest minds of his generation. But he also had time for an ambitious nobody from Staten Island.

I got into the newspaper game because I wanted to write like Pete Hamill. I failed to reach that lofty ambition. But every time some young journalist or writer is desperate enough to ask me for a word of advice, well, I figure if I can’t write like Pete, I at least try to be like Pete.

Return to the Pete Hamill tribute page.

Terry Golway is a senior editor at POLITICO States responsible for New York state political coverage out of Albany. He has been a journalist for more than 40 years and is the author of more than a dozen books, including Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics. He was a member of The New York Times‘ editorial board and was city editor of the New York Observer. He holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Rutgers University.

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