2009, The New York Times – 400 Most Influential New Yorkers List: Pete Hamill, the distinguished Writer in Residence at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, made “The 400 Most Influential New Yorkers in the Past 400 Years” list. When an old attorney friend, Thomas Hickey, congratulated Hamill on the honor, he quipped, “I would much rather have a Regis diploma on my wall.”
When Hickey, a Regis High School graduate, questioned what Hamill meant, he was surprised to learn that Hamill had never graduated from Regis, the elite college preparatory school on New York City’s upper east side. Hamill had dropped out of the class of 1953 at age 15 and it was something that had always gnawed at him.
Peter Hamill was born in the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, on June 23, 1935. The oldest of seven children, Hamill was born to Catholic immigrants from Belfast, Northern Ireland. His alcoholic father had a series of jobs while his mother worked at Wanamakers Department Store to help support the family.
Hamill, an excellent student, applied to and was accepted as a sophomore at Regis. He could handle the rigorous classes but coming from a poor Brooklyn family, he did not have the nice clothes and shoes like the rich kids from Manhattan. He quit school and got a job in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a sheet metal apprentice.
In 1952, Hamill enlisted in the Navy and served four years. After his discharge, he used the G.I. Bill to study writing and art at Mexico City College but did not graduate. Later Hamill wrote a story about a Puerto Rican Olympic Boxing champion and the story was published in The Atlantis, a newspaper in New York City.
This success inspired him to write several letters to the editor of the New York Post asking for a job. In 1960, his persistence led to a beat reporter position at the Post. Three years later he was a correspondent with the Saturday Evening Post in Europe. In 1965, Hamill was reporting from Vietnam and later from around the world.
Over the course of a 40-year journalism career, Hamill worked for four New York City newspapers with assignments in Spain, Ireland, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Lebanon, Rome, Los Angeles, and New Mexico. He is the only person ever to have run both New York City tabloid newspapers, the New York Daily News and the New York Post.
Hamill covered a number of U.S. Presidents and was a good friend of Senator Robert Kennedy. He was one of the men who apprehended Sirhan Sirhan after he assassinated Kennedy during his 1968 Presidential campaign. Hamill dated a number of celebrities including former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, actress Shirley MacLaine, and singer Linda Ronstadt.
Hamill has authored 16 books, including ten novels and two collections of short stories. He has received numerous literary awards during his distinguished career, including a Grammy Award in 1975 for Best Liner Notes on Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album. In 2005, he received the coveted Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and in 2010 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from St. John’s University.
Saturday June 26, 2010 – Regis High School, Brooklyn, NY: After Thomas Hickey learned of Hamill’s dropping out of Regis High School, he contacted the school’s president Father Philip Judge. On June 26, 2010, two days after his 75thbirthday, William Peter Hamill received his diploma from Regis High School in Brooklyn, fifty-nine years after he dropped out.
On dropping out of high school, Hamill laments, “It was one of the dumb things you do. I had convinced myself, full of 16-year-old melancholy, that it was the only thing I could do. It was dumb, but it forced me to live the kind of life I lived. To be a newspaper man is the best education.” A common man with an uncommon desire to succeed and finish what he started.
“The bookends of success are starting and finishing.” Dr. John Maxwell