I had the opportunity to meet the legendary newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin last week, who received an honorary Doctorate degree from Long Island University (LIU), Brooklyn Campus. Actually, I had met Jimmy years ago socially a few times and then once when I was invited by the Daily News publisher to a meeting of community newspaper publishers. At the time I was publisher of the Caribbean American News. Along with a dozen or so Chinese, Russian, Spanish and outer borough community and ethnic newspaper publishers, we were going to be the subject of an editorial piece that Jimmy was to be involved. No, he did not remember. No, I did not remind him! Jimmy is a newspaper journalism rock star! When we small-time publishers left that meeting, we were all stunned that Jimmy was there. We exhaled a collective: “Wow!”
Because Mr. Breslin was unable to attend the LIU commencement ceremony held in May, LIU President David J. Steinberg decided to hold a special ceremony just for him in the campus Kumble Theater.
The small ceremony was attended by his family including a daughter, his wife Ronnie Eldridge, former NY City Council leader and CUNY TV host, friends, University Trustees, Provost Gail Stevens and Faculty members. Although it was clear that he was moving a bit slower and may had been in pain, he did not let on. He joked to the empty seats in the audience about how he was “glad to be somewhere” and wanted a drink!
“It is right that we honor Jimmy for his talent, courage and achievement to tell stories about the common man. When the other reporters were writing about the rich and famous at President Kennedy’s funeral, Jimmy was the only one to focus on the grave diggers. He has come full circle since his students days in the 1950s when he left us after only two years. But his life’s work and achievement more than made up for it. He is an inspiration to students on what is possible. We’ve seen students who appeared so promising who hardly achieve much. Then, we got Jimmy Breslin, a student who struggled and worked hard. Because of him, we know that we must give our all to each and every student who passes through our doors,” said President Steinberg.
Jimmy reminisced about growing up in Queens, smoking, drinking in all-night bars, and the clicking sound of a typewriter. “There are no more newspapers,” he lamented. “Right now, I am writing fiction and I stopped drinking and smoking. But writing is painful. You need to drink to write. The stories are put out there in space somewhere (referring to the internet)…and typing no longer makes any noise. It’s terrible now. But, I thank you for this honor.”