San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday)

Novelist was beloved Santa Cruz instructor

Storytelle­r was one of six sons given prizefight­er nicknames by their father

- By Sam Whiting

Conn Hallinan’s first act of civil disobedien­ce was to reject his own nickname. He was called “Flash” when he went into a movie theater to see the western “Stagecoach” at age 7. By the time he left, he had taken on the persona of John Wayne’s “Ringo Kid.”

This renaming took some maneuverin­g because his father, the famed progressiv­e criminal defense attorney, Vincent Hallinan, had given all six of his sons prizefight­er nicknames at birth, to defend the family’s left wing ideals. So if Conn was to be the “Ringo Kid,” he had to earn it.

He was “Ringo” (shortened from “Ringo Kid”) when he was suspended from Redwood High School in Marin for leading a mock funeral procession from the campus parking lot to San Quentin in protest of capital punishment before the 1960 execution of Caryl Chessman. And he was Ringo when he was arrested during the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964, the year the other Ringo arrived with the Beatles.

But he was back to the more dignified Conn, never Professor Hallinan, during the 22 years he spent as a lecturer and writing instructor at UC Santa Cruz, and he did not use “Ringo” on the cover of any of the five historical novels he wrote about the Roman Empire.

Hallinan, a big-hearted and gregarious man who lived large, died June 19 at his home in Oakland which, in keeping with his coalition-building character, was located at the city limit with its mailbox over the line in

Berkeley. He had been diagnosed with cancer of the tongue in 2020 and by the end he could barely whisper out his yarns, though he kept trying. He was 81 and the fourth of the six Hallinan sons to die.

“Ringo was a storytelle­r par excellence. It infused all of his writing and teaching, and it is how everyone knew him,” said his wife, Anne Hallinan, whom he had first met on the Vietnam Day Committee in 1965. “His life was about bringing people together and making them understand their own power.”

Hallinan was a tackle on the varsity football team at San Francisco State before transferri­ng to UC Berkeley, arriving just in time for the action. By the end of his first term, he’d already been arrested during the three-day sit-in at Sproul Hall. There were more arrests to follow, during the Third World Liberation Front strike of 1969, as Hallinan worked his way through both a bachelor and doctorate in anthropolo­gy, having defended a thesis on rural insurrecti­onal organizati­ons in the Irish countrysid­e from 1652 to 1895.

He also worked at People’s World, a leftist journal that dates to the San Francisco Waterfront strike of the 1930s. Ultimately journalism overtook cultural anthropolo­gy and Hallinan spent most of his career commuting from Berkeley to UC Santa Cruz, where he taught beginning and advanced news writing and feature writing while also serving as faculty adviser for City on a Hill Press at UCSC, the weekly student paper of record.

“When he conveyed to students how articles were constructe­d and how journalism fit into history and politics, Ringo always used his anthropolo­gist’s eye,” said Roz Spafford, former chair of the Writing Program at UCSC, which enfolded journalism during Hallinan’s years on the faculty. “What was remarkable was that he convinced each student that he was engaged with their work individual­ly.”

One of these students was Martha Mendoza, whom Hallinan encouraged to the point of helping her design her own major. A decade after her graduation, Mendoza was still counting on the advice of Hallinan when she won a Pulitzer Prize in Investigat­ive Reporting as part of an Associated Press

“Ringo was a storytelle­r par excellence. It infused all of his writing and teaching, and it is how everyone knew him.”

Anne Hallinan, Conn’s wife

team that uncovered the massacre of civilians by U.S. troops during the Korean War. Mendoza won a second Pulitzer in 2016 and was still relying on Hallinan for story advice a week or two before his death.

“Conn Hallinan was the first person to suggest that I could have a career in journalism,” Mendoza said while waiting to board a flight from San Francisco to British Columbia. “He always encouraged me and had an incredible spirit. He was deeply generous.”

Conn Malachi Hallinan was born at Children’s Hospital in San Francisco on Nov. 17, 1942. There were already four older brothers waiting to beat up on him — Patrick, known as “Butch,” Terence “Kayo,” Michael “Tuffy” and Matthew “Dynamite.” Still to come was Danny “Dangerous.” No home in the city was large enough for all of those names, so when Conn was 2, the family moved to a vacant summer estate on a 5-acre spread in Ross, the fanciest town in Marin.

The lawn was 100 yards long and the boys played tackle football there. Basketball games happened in the full-court hardwood gymnasium Vincent built for his kids, and which converted easily to a boxing ring. The spring sport was swimming in an Olympic-size pool where the less fortunate kids of Marin City were invited to swim lessons given by the brothers.

Hallinan attended the Ross School and Sir Francis Drake High School until Redwood opened in Larkspur in 1958. He was a diver on the swim team and a tackle on the football team.

After graduating in 1960, he spent a year in London with his older brother Kayo, that included time chauffeuri­ng parliament member Konni Zilliacus, a left-wing Labour Party politician who was friends with their mother, Vivian. She was an activist herself who enjoyed getting arrested at civil rights protests with her sons and once spent 30 days in jail. There were political rallies built into that job, including the Aldermasto­n Marches against nuclear armament.

By then Vincent Hallinan enjoyed an internatio­nal reputation, having saved leftist labor leader Harry Bridges from deportatio­n. Hallinan was also the Progressiv­e Party candidate for president in 1952.

“Season of the Witch,” David Talbot’s nonfiction bestseller about midcentury San Francisco, starts with a prologue about the courageous and charismati­c Vincent Hallinan and ends with an epilogue about him.

“The most important piece of fatherly wisdom he imparted to his sons boiled down to ‘question everything in life,’ ” Talbot quoted Hallinan saying in the prologue. “I’ll always give you the best advice I can, but make up your own minds. No matter how firmly I believe something, it might be one hundred percent false; everything I know may be wrong.”

One thing he wasn’t wrong about was real estate during the Great Depression. He and his wife Vivian turned a foreclosed building that Hallinan had gotten as a legal fee into a string of furnished and unfurnishe­d rental properties in and around Nob Hill.

Vincent Hallinan died in 1992 and Vivian in 1999. The real estate portfolio was left to the five surviving sons as they all pursued separate careers. Patrick was a trial attorney, as was Terence, who was also elected district attorney and to the Board of Supervisor­s. Matthew was the first to pursue anthropolo­gy at UC Berkeley, dropping out short of his doctorate to become a self-described “communist revolution­ary.”

Conn followed his brother and finished his doctorate before also becoming a communist revolution­ary, and joined the staff of People’s World, the West Coast voice of the communist party. His beats were sports and the class struggle, but he soon rose to managing editor.

“Ringo was a very bright and dedicated guy who was also idealistic,” said Matthew, who compromise­d his own idealism long enough to take over the family business. “He was prepared to devote his life to writing for People’s World, but the communist movement fell apart.”

That turned out to be a lucky break because his pay at People’s World was $600 a month and he had four kids to feed. While still an undergrad at UC Berkeley, Hallinan had married Eda Godel, whom he met at S.F. State. Their son, Sean was born in 1965. Separated in 1968, they eventually divorced and he then married Judy Ann Alberti in 1972. That marriage lasted a little longer than the first and produced sons Antonio, born in 1972, and Brian, born in 1975.

In 1980 he was reunited with Anne Bernstein, whom he’d met as an undergrad when she was a graduate student in dramatic art. They were married in January 1982 and a fourth son, David, was born in September. Luckily, Conn was hired at UC Santa Cruz one week later.

He taught at UCSC from 1982 through 2004, and also served a threeyear term as live-in provost of Kresge College, one of 10 residentia­l colleges within the university. He never minded sidetracki­ng his lectures by long segues into the struggles of the Irish in general and the Hallinan family in specific.

“He was a real Irish patriot,” said Matthew, noting that family resistance descended from their great-grandfathe­r “Black Mick” Hallinan, who fled Limerick with a price on his head for an assassinat­ion attempt on a British government official, in the 19th century. Their grandfathe­r, Patrick Hallinan, was a cable car conductor.

Though Conn Hallinan’s five novels were about the Roman occupation of Spain and North Africa, the lead character had Hallinan tendencies — and the books were always published on St. Patrick’s Day. He put out three in both digital and print form on March 17, 2023, and one on March 17, 2024. The fifth was hurried into publicatio­n at the beginning of June.

“As soon as he started writing, his depression about dying of cancer lifted,” said his wife, an actor and family psychologi­st. “A sixth book was in his head, but he didn’t get to it.”

 ?? Photos courtesy of Anne Hallinan/Cynthia Smalley Photograph­y 2016 ?? Conn “Ringo” Hallinan, shown in 2016, was a member of the famed Hallinan family of San Francisco politics.
Photos courtesy of Anne Hallinan/Cynthia Smalley Photograph­y 2016 Conn “Ringo” Hallinan, shown in 2016, was a member of the famed Hallinan family of San Francisco politics.
 ?? ?? Conn Hallinan takes part in a protest in the 1960s. He got his doctorate and became a communist revolution­ary.
Conn Hallinan takes part in a protest in the 1960s. He got his doctorate and became a communist revolution­ary.
 ?? Photos courtesy of Anne Hallinan ?? Conn Hallinan speaks at a rally at UC Santa Cruz in 2003. He spent most of his career commuting from Berkeley to UCSC, where he taught writing.
Photos courtesy of Anne Hallinan Conn Hallinan speaks at a rally at UC Santa Cruz in 2003. He spent most of his career commuting from Berkeley to UCSC, where he taught writing.
 ?? ?? Conn Hallinan visits a Roman ruin in Spain that gave him inspiratio­n to write five historical novels, which always published on St. Patrick’s Day.
Conn Hallinan visits a Roman ruin in Spain that gave him inspiratio­n to write five historical novels, which always published on St. Patrick’s Day.
 ?? ?? “His life was about bringing people together,” says Anne Hallinan.
“His life was about bringing people together,” says Anne Hallinan.
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