It was a touching moment to read Kevin Fagan’s moving front page SF Chronicle story on the passing of Warren Hinckle. I’ve know Warren from puberty to passing. We were briefly rival columnists is high school – Warren in the Riordan Crusader and I in Inside SI. I thought of myself as a teenage Herb Caen covering the manly world of boys’ high school. Warren punctured my pretentious prose with a brilliant satirical piece titled, Of Warm Beer and Cold Pretzels, that exposed the insular elitism of 50’s Jesuit high school lads. I quickly retreated to my school’s sports coverage to escape Hinckle’s piercing pen.
In college, he at USF, I at Santa Clara, we both practiced the devious art of sneaking articles past faculty moderators (Jesuit censors) in preparation for the emerging Catholic social justice movement. Warren’s public life will no doubt be relived in the press and pubs with wit and wisdom, but his role in making Ramparts magazine the major chronicle of our transformative generation must not be obscured by Warren’s mischievous career style. Perhaps because I was a veteran of the Mississippi Freedom Summer and a national anti-Vietnam war organizer, Warren appointed me a reporter for the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Now this wasn’t for Ramparts but rather for a street journal sponsored by Ramparts entitled “Up Against the Wall.” Actually it’s never been proven that Ramparts’ management even knew about our Chicago street reporting, but these were details that bored Warren. I ended up writing a passionate piece from inside a horrendously violent police riot. Bashing heads, bloodshed, Phil Ochs’ folk song performance, young American’s chanting: “The whole world’s watching!” It was far too long to be published in the street press, much less a national magazine, but Warren rejected it with grace, writing above my byline, “Nice riot, Ryan!”
I loved Warren’s writing ability to transform a dull or even sad event into an almost riotous joyfulness. He wrote a 2010 memorial in The Chronicle on Brennan Newsom’s death. Brennan was Gavin Newsom’s uncle and a grammar school mate of mine. Hinckle’s writing transformed a funeral at Notre Dame des Victoires (“lovely dollhouse Catholic church” where I had been baptized) into a celebration of “the city’s Catholic political aristocracy” including John Burton, the Pelosi brothers, Jeremiah Hallisey, Lt. Gov.-elect Newsom, Gov.-elect Jerry Brown and other notables. Hinckle treated us all with the irreverence which we no doubt deserved. About Governors Brown and Newsom’s compliance with Catholic holy ritual, Hinkle wrote: “Attorney Phil Ryan, the novelist and Democratic insider, who was standing next to Brown, observed wickedly that the two future state executives approached the altar from different sides of the aisle – ‘Gavin came from the left and Jerry from the right.’”
However, what Warren didn’t write was his own liturgical practice. I was shocked to see Warren take Holy Communion! Then he was walking down the church aisle toward my pew. He had his hands clasped in the devout prayer mode and a momentarily angelic expression on his face. Seeing me, he unclasped his hands, shrugged and said, “See Ryan, no thunderbolts!”
Much has been written of Warren Hinckle and few men earn five columns in The Chron. Much more will be said of him at his funeral at SS Peter and Paul’s Church and in the pubs and restaurants afterwards. As for me, I think Warren’s daughter, Pia Hinkle, got it right when she told The Chronicle’s Kevin Fagan, “But honestly, I think a Catholic sense of social justice really drove him.”