Remembering Al Winslow, 1941–2010

By Michael Howerton
Thursday January 21, 2010 - 09:20:00 AM

Al Winslow, a journalist and homeless advocate who adopted Berkeley as his home, died Jan. 8 following a short illness. He was 68. 

Wislow wrote for the Daily Planet and other local publications about homelessness and poverty, disability rights, free speech, high school sports, and his observations of the world around Berkeley.  

Workers at Razan’s Organic Kitchen on Kittredge Street, where he occasionally worked, said he would often stop by the small restaurant to lend a hand, and loved to talk with people or play chess with whomever he could talk into a game. He lived for many years in a studio across the street from Razan’s, but also occasionally lived in residential hotels.  

Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency Executive Director boona cheema said Winslow worked on many of the organization’s campaigns over the years. 

“He really cared about social justice,” she said. “He was passionate about civil rights for homeless people. He was very active in neighborhood issues, and he was a good writer. Anytime I needed help, if I would ask Al, he would do it. He was a good friend.” 

Lisa Stephens, chair of the Berkeley Rent Board, said she met Winslow in the early ’90s when they were both working to preserve People’s Park. 

“Al was always on the scene and involved with anything that was happening with people, fighting the anti-homeless laws, he was always active,” she said. “Al was an incredibly smart man, he was really quite brilliant. He had a great gift for social commentary. He was always interested about the political matters of the day and how people treated each other. I’ll really miss him. A piece of the fabric is gone.” 

Winslow was the eldest of three brothers growing up in New York City. Ed Winslow, two years younger than Al, now a retired social worker in Utica, N.Y., said that he didn’t know much about his brother’s life after he moved to California in the ’70s.  

“I read his writing in the paper online, and I could see that it was very sensitive,” Ed said. “He was always happiest when he was writing and expressing himself on paper.” 

Ed said that Al had a sharp intelligence from a very early age, reminiscent of their uncle, Buckminster Fuller, the famed architect and inventor. 

“He was brilliant; he was very well read, reminded me of our Uncle Bucky,” Ed said of his older brother. “He was the brightest guy I ever knew. I’m sad that he’s gone.” 

Winslow worked as a reporter for the Times-Herald Record in Middletown, N.Y., and for the Bergen Record in New Jersey in the 1960s, following a stint with the U.S. Navy. Prior to the Navy, he attended Hobart College in New York for a year.  

Staff at the Planet grew accustomed in recent years to the sight of Winslow coming into the office with loose papers full of notes talking excitedly about a story. He would type for a while and then walk outside to smoke a cigarette along Shattuck Avenue, telling the editor as he left, “It’s a good story. It’s just right,” suggesting that nothing should be done to ruin it. 

In July 2008, Al wrote about Berkeley banning one of his favorite activities:  


I’ve smoked cigarettes for 52 years, which is pushing my luck. Statistically, I should have been dead six years ago. Almost everybody has a developed opinion about this strange habit, which has been deemed a health code violation in Berkeley business districts since May, subject to citation by the Health Department.  

I live in a small apartment building on upper Kittredge Street where the lease prohibits smoking. I smoked outside behind the building, but tenants said they could smell it and that anyway the back lot was filling up with cigarette butts.  

Shortly, an elderly woman I know up the street, would shout out her window: “You’re my friend, but don’t smoke here.”  

I ended up across the street, smoking with employees outside the California Theater. These are young artistic types—a writer, a filmmaker, book readers. Smart. A type apparently prone to take up smoking. These days, they talk a lot about quitting.  


In December 2008, he wrote about meeting a UC student making a documentary film about consciousness. He wrote: 


If you engage the world, by 50 or so something changes.  

A poet said something like:  

You seek and keep on seeking  

Until you return to where you started  

And see it for the first time.  

And you start writing newspaper stories, of all things, about the undercurrents of things.  

And you have conversations with bright University of California students. 


Winslow’s body was cremated and his ashes will be buried in the family’s plot in Tuxedo Park, N.Y. this spring. No memorial is scheduled.