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Award-winning journalist and author Pete Hamill once said, “When they cart me out to Green-Wood, it’ll just say ‘Newspaperman’ on that piece of stone that says who the hell the former guy is that’s lying under it.”
The grizzled Park Slope native revisited the national historic landmark last week, a ball toss away from where he grew up, for a livelier occasion — to be honored by the Green-Wood Historic Fund with the DeWitt Clinton Award for Excellence.
The annual benefit raises funds for programs and salutes its venerable namesake, a 19th-century governor, who also served the city as mayor, state senator, assemblyman and U.S. senator.
Hamill, the author of 21 books, including his latest, “Tabloid City,” was presented the plaudit by fellow Brooklyn champion Borough President Markowitz at the venue he calls “one of the great urban glades.” A cocktail reception for the teetotaler, featured live music, guided trolley tours, performances by The Artful Conspirators and short scenes from Brooklyn Underground: Theatrical Stories from the Green-Wood Cemetery.
The spirits seemed an odd choice with which to fete Hamill: He gave up alcohol in the early 1970s, crediting it with eroding his talent and ruining his life, later chronicling his journey to sobriety in his 1994 memoir, “A Drinking Life.”
The cocktail hour is a standard format for its soirees, said a Green-Wood spokesperson, though the libations flowed unnoticed by the man of the hour — the eldest of seven children of Catholic immigrants from Northern Ireland who went onto become editor of the New York Post and the Daily News — as he held court alongside one of his brothers, Brian, and met with Green-Wood brass at a private reception inside the chapel.
Hamill noted that the award was particularly gratifying because it rekindled his roots.
“I’ve been visiting Green-Wood, often after dark with fellow bravos, since I was a young boy,” he said, “In that sense it reminds me of my own beginnings, along with the certain end.”
The honoree, who attended Holy Name of Jesus grammar school on Prospect Park West in Windsor Terrace, started in the newspaper business at the age of 11, delivering the now-defunct Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He demonstrated his kinship to the borough by dropping out of a prestigious school in Manhattan, which he had attended on a scholarship, to work as an apprentice at the Brooklyn Navy Yard before turning to journalism.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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