October 2, 2016

RIP Ed Hinshaw

Sam Smith - Of all the wonderful and remarkable people I have known in my life, one of the truly special was Ed Hinshaw who has just passed away. On paper Ed was a normal success – Milwaukee TV anchorman, later a voice of WRC in Washington, the Voice of America, a top executive of a TV station and listed in the Wisconsin broadcasting hall of fame.

But that doesn’t tell the real story that began in part when, as a 15 year old high school freshman, he was hired as an announcer by a Minnesota radio station. He not only had the prematurely right voice but a charm and humor that would carry him through life. 

He was accepted at Harvard on a scholarship a couple of years after me and we both worked at the campus radio station. He then went to work for WRC at the same time I was working for the DC radio station, WWDC. His jobs included announcing for the funny pair, Walker & Scott, hosts of the Joy Boys. Ed Walker liked to introduce Ed’s station breaks with the pseudo-Ivy League seguĂ©: “And now a station break by Hinshah from Hahvad.” Willard Scott went on to be the weatherman on the Today Show.

In fact, Ed Hinshaw was in DC because he had dropped out of Harvard – as I almost did – and we would share a disrespect for the culture and values of the academy. If wasn’t until years later, however, that I discovered how strangely his Harvard story had begun. 

First a note about how mine did. 

The dean of freshman, F. Skiddy von Stade Jr, once said to me, "You people from Germantown Friends School look so good on paper. Why do you do so badly here?” In fact, a number of GFS graduates were on probation and one had dropped out. I couldn't answer the question, but I quickly contributed to his stereotype. I drifted into a schedule that kept me up drinking - once a whole fifth of bourbon before bed - and talking with friends much of the night while sleeping through classes. By the middle of freshman year I received a postcard from my English instructor: "Mr. Coles requests the pleasure of your attendance at the next regular meeting of his course." I was quickly becoming, without malice aforethought, a Harvard dissident.

What I didn't know when von Stade asked me about Germantown Friends was that he had already vetted me and other students in a curious manner, almost as if I were applying to be a secret agent or a member of a holy order rather than merely a freshman. Years later I came across an exchange of letters between von Stade and my father in which the dean wrote, among other things:

I should like to ask you to write me as fully and as frankly as possible about the background, interests, and special needs of your son. If there are deficiencies in his earlier education, or handicaps in his personality or health, I sincerely hope that you will tell me about them. This information will be available only to your son's Faculty Adviser, to the Medical Department, and to members of this office.

Since discovering this exchange, I have occasionally wondered how many of these freshman dossiers ended up elsewhere in the interest of the state or of some prominent alumnus seeking a new assistant. As with much intelligence gathering, however, von Stade's efforts fell a bit short. Alston Chase gave an example years later in the Atlantic Monthly:

8 Prescott Street in Cambridge is a well-preserved three-story Victorian frame house, standing just outside Harvard Yard. Today it houses Harvard's expository-writing program. But in September of 1958, when Ted Kaczynski, just sixteen, arrived at Harvard, 8 Prescott Street was a more unusual place, a sort of incubator.
Earlier that year F. Skiddy von Stade Jr., Harvard's dean of freshmen, had decided to use the house as living accommodations for the brightest, youngest freshmen. Von Stade's well-intentioned idea was to provide these boys with a nurturing, intimate environment, so that they wouldn't feel lost, as they might in the larger, less personal dorms. But in so doing he isolated the overly studious and less-mature boys from their classmates. He inadvertently created a ghetto for grinds, making social adjustment for them more, rather than less, difficult. . .Whereas other freshmen lived in suites with one or two roommates, six of the sixteen students of Prescott Street, including Kaczynski, lived in single rooms.

Years later I learned that one of those who lived at 8 Prospect Street was my friend Ed Hinshaw who had none of the characteristics of an anti-social over-studious grind. He was, in fact, one of the most hopelessly gregarious people I have ever known.

I never considered you a mad genius, I remarked to Ed, who replied that he had tired of living with one and told von Stade that he had to get away from his roommate. "We thought you'd be a stabilizing influence," replied von Stade to the freshman scholarship student unwittingly drafted for his social engineering project. Providing Ed with stabilizing influences was apparently not considered.

Years later Von Stade would be the target of student protests and wrote as late as 1974 in the Harvard Crimson:

When I see the bright, well-educated, but relatively dull housewives who attended the Seven Sisters, I honestly shudder at the thought of changing the balance of males versus females at Harvard. Quite simply, I do not see highly educated women making startling strides in contributing to our society in the foreseeable future. They are not, in my opinion, going to stop getting married and/or having children. They will fail in their present role as women if they do.

So, besides our love of broadcasting, Ed and I shared the fact that we had both let von Stade down, and I think we both were sort of proud of it.

1 comment:

Brian Hinshaw said...

This is fantastic, Sam, though it seems to me that Dad dined out on his "I lived with the Unabomber" story so often that he and Harvard are now square. He sure treasured your friendship, and I thank you for all the laughs you brought to him (and through him, with embellishment in the retellings, to the rest of the family, again and again and oh my god not again!). The pain of losing him is eased quite a bit by how satisfied he was with the wonderful life he led and the many stories we have to keep his spirit with us.