EDITOR’S NOTE: In celebration of Father’s Day this weekend, Trey Wingo, co-host of ESPN Radio’s Golic and Wingo, offers a first-person tribute to his dad, Hal Wingo. The elder Wingo, now retired, is a former senior editor of Life Magazine and a co-founder of People Magazine. During his legendary 33-year journalism career with Time Inc., Wingo traveled the world, covering major news stories like the Vietnam War, and interacted with some of the world’s best-known personalities, from political figures to entertainers and sports celebrities.
I guess, in a way, my dad shaped my career without me even knowing it.
As early as three or four, I have memories of going into his offices in Los Angeles when he was a reporter for Life Magazine and seeing all the photos of celebrities on the walls. I knew he did something that was a little bit different than most dads, because of the things he was doing as opposed to what my friends’ fathers did. That point was driven home in a very real way when we moved to Hong Kong.
My dad had just been named the bureau chief for Life Magazine for their coverage of the Vietnam War. Several times he would head into the bush for weeks at a time and I just assumed I’d see him later, but clearly my mother knew there were greater risks. In fact, in the photo of his days in Vietnam, the man to his left was his photographer. The photographer was killed when his helicopter was shot down not long after that picture was taken.
After moving back to the States in the early ’70s, he stayed with Life until the magazine ceased weekly publication in 1973. They told my dad and two other editors to come up with a new magazine to launch – and a year later People Magazine hit the newsstands. It will go down as the most successful magazine launch in history, especially since they’re really not launching them anymore.
Whenever there were school holidays or teacher in-service days, I’d head into New York City on the train with him.
He’d take me into his office where I would be his copy boy, running scripts and things from one office to another on the editorial floor. It was cool. I learned from him how to tell a story, how to write a story and what makes things interesting to people.
When I was a page at NBC, we’d ride the train in together and our offices were literally across the street: I’d turn into 30 Rock and he’d head two blocks over to the Time Life Building across from Radio City Music Hall.
When Time Life gave up the building in 2014, he came back into town and they had one last epic party with all the old-time staffers. It was great and we got some pretty cool pictures.
My dad covered everything from exploring the state of Alaska to the Kennedy assassination to the first Super Bowl. He was also somewhat famously the guy who carried an inebriated Washington running back John Riggins out of a press dinner on the night Riggins told Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to “lighten up Sandy baby, you’re too tight.”
He found a way to scratch his creative itch in a really fun and entertaining way. His career was great, but he retired in 1996 and it sure seems like he’s had more fun since then. I hope to do the same whenever that time comes. Until then, I’ll continue to do what he taught me: Find things that are interesting to me and try and explain them to people in interesting ways.
Thanks, Pops, have a day!