Honan warmly remembered as Villager editor, snake buff
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Former Villager Editor William Honan, who led the newspaper during a transformative period of political upheaval in Greenwich Village, was memorialized by friends, colleagues and family members on June 16 at The New York Times building.
Honan died in April at age 83.
From 1957 to 1960, he was the editor of The Villager. He went on to be a correspondent and editor for 30 years at The New York Times. Yet, he said, editing The Villager was the most important job he ever had.
Honan pushed to make The Villager a player in the Village’s changing politics — reshaping it from “a little society paper to a newspaper that reported the news,” as former Councilmember Carol Greitzer put it.
Under Honan, the paper championed the ascendancy of the upstart Village Independent Democrats and its reform candidates, including Greitzer, versus the old-line Tammany Hall, led by the powerful Carmine De Sapio.
Honan’s Villager also joined local activists led by Shirley Hayes in fighting Robert Moses’ plan to put a road through the middle of Washington Square Park.
At the Times, as a culture reporter, Honan had an eye for talent, and spotted Pavarotti as an up-and-coming opera phenom.
Perhaps not as well known — at least not publicly — Honan was also a devoted herpetologist. In short, he was fascinated by reptiles and amphibians — particularly, snakes and snapping turtles, the latter which, as a boy, he would daringly capture barehanded in suburban Bronxville, where he grew up.
One of his two sons, Bradley Holmes Burton Honan, reminisced about his father’s love of cold-blooded critters. In the Honan household, it wasn’t unusual to find a snake contentedly coiled around a floor lamp or hungry snapping turtles swimming about in the bathtub. His son concluded by pulling a small, wriggling snake out of his suit coat pocket, to the audience’s laughter. He then placed it in a terrarium off to the side, which had been sitting concealed under newspaper paper for that purpose.
Corinna Honan Inge, a niece from England, also a journalist, humorously recalled how after a visit by her uncle, she opened her refrigerator, only to find inside a “going-away present” — dangling spiders, snakes and assorted bugs.
William Grimes, a Times culture reporter, didn’t share any snake stories, but recalled working next to Honan at the old Times building, on W. 43rd St. The quarters there were beyond cramped, with adjacent staffers feeling like they were “long-haul truckers” in the same cab, he said. People got on each other’s nerves over the slightest things. But Honan always was easygoing with a great laugh, and was a pleasure to work next to, Grimes said.
Speaking at the memorial, Lincoln Anderson, The Villager’s editor in chief, noted it was John W. Sutter, the paper’s immediate past publisher, who sparked awareness among The Villager’s current editorial staff of Honan’s important role more than five decades earlier. Sutter happened to vacation in Connecticut near where Honan had a house, and so learned about his past editorship of the paper.
“He set the paper on the right course,” Anderson said of Honan. “The Village’s political and physical landscape were changing, and under Bill, The Villager fought the good fight. We try to carry on in his footsteps and live up to his high standard.”