Temple Beth-El was filled Friday afternoon for the memorial service of William R. “Bill” Sinkin with family, friends, and colleagues from all sectors of San Antonio’s community. Sinkin, a pioneer of social justice, economic development and alternative energy, died last Monday at the age of 100.
Former mayors, council members, presidents, CEOs, activists, state and national politicians, and community members, approached the temple bundled tight against the day’s freezing temperatures and entered a warm reception of remembrance. Though a city grieves the loss of this bow-tied leader, former bank executive, volunteer, chairman, and environmental advocate, both tears and laughter permeated the services.
His oldest son, Richard Sinkin, spoke of his – and the city’s – admiration for his father and shared Bill’s secrets to a long and happy life which can be found engraved on a plaque on Bill’s desk:
1. Marry the right person.
Sinkin was married to his wife, Fay Sinkin, for 65 years before her death in 2009. Fay was particularly instrumental in the 1970s effort to protect the Edwards Aquifer from development. They met one night in New York on a blind date. He proposed that same evening and, after some deliberation, she agreed and moved to Texas.
2. Never hold a grudge.
Throughout his life’s work – with Fay for the Edwards Aquifer, for racial and economic equality, his leadership for HemisFair ’68, his relentless advocacy for the power of the sun – he ruffled more than a few powerful feathers. But Bill was able to maintain relationships regardless of political or social differences, many cited him as the great “bridge builder” of San Antonio.
“When Bill started a question with ‘could I ask you if’ or ‘can I ask you why,’ it was very well likely he knew the answer in the first place,” State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte said before reading a proclamation of his lifelong contributions from the Texas Legislature. “He was getting us to ask the questions of ourselves, the government and our society.”
A proclamation from the local NAACP chapter was also read by Maria Stevenson Greene. During a 2005 oral history interview with the Express-News and Institute for Texan Cultures, Bill said, “I guess that as one gets older one also gets more mellow. If I’ve had any political enemies, I’ve forgotten them.”
3. Everything in moderation.
Except for bow-ties, of course.
4. Always, always, vote Democrat.
“Bill will be voting in the March primary. Absentee Ballot,” said nephew Steven Sinkin. Always ahead of his time in political and social matters, “in his last years, he was very concerned about climate change,” said Bill’s son Lanny Sinkin, who left his work in Hawaii several years ago to care for his father and became executive director of Solar San Antonio in 2009. “Bill’s real legacy was to model a true citizen, prepared to do whatever he could to improve the lives of those he touched,” Lanny read from the obituary he wrote. “Having completed his mission and released back into his beloved home, the loving energy accumulated from a lifetime of true service, Bill changed address and prepared to take on his next mission.” Richard also added a fifth secret to the list:
5. Keep moving.
“He was always in motion, both mentally and physically,” Richard said. Bill founded Solar San Antonio in 1999, when he was 86 years old. “For me his death is not a tragedy but a culmination of a life beautifully lived,” Richard concluded. “And his progressive teaching, remarkable kindness, love of humanity, spirit of generosity, great sense of humor, deeply permeate my life and I firmly believe that is true for my family and for San Antonio as well.”
Also presenting tribute was the choir of Mount Zion First Baptist Church, who sung “We Shall Overcome,” in honor of Sinkin’s friendship with the congregation’s former pastor, the Rev. Claude Black. Texas Poet Laureate Rosemary Catacalos recited her work, “Mr. Chairman Takes His Leave.” And local singer and one of Bill’s primary caretakers during his final weeks, Eleanor Crawford, sang a lyrically modified (by Lanny) rendition of Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song, “Hallelujah.”
Though holding back tears just a moment before her performance, she didn’t miss a beat. “I love you, Bill. Here’s, my bow tie,” she said, looking up, holding her polka-dot neckpiece. The following are the lyrics she sung on Friday:
He came to Earth
An ox of a man
Gently Pursuing his master plan
To make his home
A beacon of enlightenment.
He wore bow ties
To stay in touch
With the simple life
That meant so much
Because it held the truth
Of real community.
He made his loans
And added stones
To build for us
Our stronger homes
To nurture and protect
The future he saw
Or housing fair
Integration here and everywhere
He spread Good Will
So all could share
He left us here
to transcend our fears
And open to releasing our tears
So we could learn to love
When you are challenged to pursue
The vision Bill taught to you
You only need to ask
What would Bill do?
Tell you to encourage yourself.
Thank you, Bill.