Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Chuck Hillinger, Dies At 82, A Great Loss

Written from Mombasa, Kenya--

It is hard to believe that our friend and esteemed colleague, Chuck Hillinger, is gone. Even in old age, he was such a lively, optimistic part of our lives in the retired employees association, he believed so much in the newspaper business, he was so justifiably proud of the many achievements of his life, that he commanded countless admirers.

I was lucky to have known him for more than 40 years. Chuck, who died of cancer Monday at 82 was a feature writer par excellence during the halcyon days of the Los Angeles Times, when Otis Chandler was publisher and Bill Thomas was editor. He worked 46 years for the paper.

He traveled everywhere, he wrote prolifically, he worked long hours, and many of the thousands of stories he wrote made their mark as a wonderful view of life, first in our state, then gradually throughout the nation and elsewhere in the world. The Times never stinted giving him the necessary financial backing for his reporting endeavors, and he richly repaid the backing he got.

There are many tributes to Chuck today, from Bob Gibson, Bob Rawitch, Ben Mintz and others, but one of the nicest and truest came from Bill Thomas' who recalled that he wrote so many stories it was hard to get them all into the newspaper. Some say there were 10,000 Chuck Hillinger stories in all. He was a treasure for the readers.

Chuck commanded admiration in the newsroom, and he was always on the spot, whereever he was needed. In November of 1970, with my wedding in Birmingham, Alabama, just around the corner, I was stuck in Montreal, covering a Quebec separatist kidnapping that had gotten much news coverage. I had already missed some of the pre-wedding events, when Chuck arrived in Montreal one night and told me I was free to leave in the morning for the wedding.

He always remembered doing this good turn, and would never cease to remind me, whenever we met, how grateful I was for the relief he provided. And I was. I have seldom been happier to see anyone than I was Chuck Hillinger that night.

In later years, Chuck was grieved, as we all have been, about the decline of the Times under new, uncaring ownership.

But he thought too much of newspapers to believe they would ever disappear or lose their ability to make distinctive contributions to their readers.

American journalism needs its Chuck Hillingers, those who never lose their thirst to provide newsworthy entertainment and whose interest in what they are doing is unbounded. His work, like that of Jack Smith, Art Seidenbaum, Paul Coates and so many other great Times writers, is part of our heritage.

We pause today in sadness to pay tribute to him, and to wish his family well at this sad time.

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