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Joseph Sebastian Sinisi, longtime Denver Post reporter, dies at 80

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The Dodgers left Brooklyn, but Joseph Sebastian Sinisi never did. Well, sort of.

Sinisi, a Denver Post reporter and staff writer for 25 years, died suddenly Monday in his Denver home. He was 80.

Known to Denver Post readers by the name in his byline, J. Sebastian Sinisi, the Brooklyn-born Sinisi was familiar to colleagues and friends as Joe. Sinisi began his long career with the Post in 1979, and through the years he never lost his heavy, characteristic Brooklyn accent.

Frank Scandale, a former Denver Post city editor who also served as Sinisi’s editor at times during the 1990s and into the 2000s, hails from New York. He recalled the first time they met, in 1990.

” ‘Ey, I heer yoor froom da neighbahood,’ ” Scandal recalled of Sinisi’s Brooklyn-laced greeting.

“I look at him, I think he’s giving me the business, busting my chops,” said Scandale, who has a New York accent, although not as pronounced. “I said, ‘Hey, what the hell are you doing?’ ”

Sinisi was perplexed and initially hurt by the aggressive response, Scandale said.

“Then it dawned on me: This is how he really talks,” Scandale said. “We were off and running.”

Brooklyn accent aside, Sinisi was a Renaissance man. A voracious reader, Sinisi pursued the arts, classic literature, poetry, fashion, architecture, music and sports, especially baseball. His broad interests gave him the ability to cover a variety of beats and stories.

“As a journalist, he did a lot of different things,” Scandale said. “He was funny, and he was entertaining. To him life was a big opportunity.”

In summer 1993, when Pope John Paul II came to Colorado for World Youth Day, Sinisi was among the Post staffers who covered the event. On a media bus with other reporters, Sinisi was seated next to Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, and they struck up a conversation.

“Coming off the bus, a TV type asked me ‘who was that guy you were talking to?’ ” Sinisi wrote in a biography. “I replied ‘he helped save America from Richard Nixon.’ We could use more Bernsteins, and Woodwards, today.”

Born on Aug. 26, 1942, he was the first of three children of an Italian immigrant family. Sinisi attended Brooklyn Technical High School, where he first became interested in journalism. An Eagle Scout in his youth, Sinisi was the first member of his family to attend college, graduating from Hunter College in 1964. On Aug. 28, 1963, at age 21, Sinisi boarded a bus departing a Harlem church to attend Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington D.C.

Sinisi’s first job in journalism, while attending Hunter, was as a copyboy at the New York Post.  Sinisi wrote for several business publications, including Fairchild News in New York City. In 1974, he became the Fairchild bureau chief in Denver.

Sinisi is among Denver Post colleagues awarded a 2000 staff Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for coverage of the Columbine High School shooting. Sinisi, in 2013, was inducted into the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame.

Initially hired by The Denver Post as a features writer, including covering fashion, Sinisi during his career interviewed many of his favorite writers and authors, including Tom Wolfe, George Plimpton, Leon Uris, William Burroughs, Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, Herb Caen, Carlos Fuentes, Hunter Thompson, Joseph Heller, Ken Kesey, rodeo champion Larry Mahan and “beat” poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg.

“The first interview of many with Ginsberg was by phone, prior to a week-long symposium at Boulder’s Naropa Institute with a roster of ‘Beat Generation’ luminaries; most of whom were still living at the time,” Sinisi wrote in a biography. “When that lengthy conversation was done, Ginsberg asked me to relate what I’d taken down, ‘because I don’t want to be misquoted for all eternity in The Denver Post.’ ‘All eternity?’ I asked. ‘You give the Post far too much credit. And clout.’ ’’

Ginsberg died in April 1997. Sinisi wrote an obituary that ran on Page One in The Denver Post.

In his youth, as a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, Sinisi’s boyhood hero was Duke Snider. Sinisi attended many games at Ebbets Field in Flatbush. Years later, as a reporter, he interviewed Snider in Denver when the former Dodgers star was on a book tour.

They met at the Brown Palace. “He was self-effacing, but lit up when I showed him my hand-written scorecard of the next-to-last game ever at Ebbets Field, in late September 1957. I’d just turned 15, and the Dodgers were about to move to Los Angeles in 1958,” Sinisi wrote in a  biography.

Snider hit two home runs in that September game off of future Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts. Snider asked Sinisi for a copy of the scorecard. He was “delighted to oblige.”

“When I returned to the Post newsroom, a short walk then, friends asked how the interview had gone,” Sinisi wrote. “ ‘Well, the Duke was 10minutes late,’ I said. ‘But I’d waited 31 years.’ ”

In 2015, Sinisi and his wife, Chloe Randolph “Randy” Venable Sinisi, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the Denver Press Club with family and friends.

“Being married to Joe was like being on a roller coater, it had its ups and downs,” Randy said with a laugh.

She recalled her husband being assigned to write a story about a Lakeside Amusement Park roller coaster with enthusiasts who rode the coaster all day long. He likely pleaded for the assignment, she said.

“He came home in the middle of the afternoon with bruised ribs. I think he broke a rib,” she said.

Prior to the internet, Randy recalled a time Sinisi phoned her at home from the office. He asked her to grab a book from their home library, telling her where and what shelf the book was on, as well as the chapter and page, so could could place the exact quote in his copy.

“Joe had such a sense of adventure. He was so smart, and he had a photographic memory,” she said.

Sinisi is survived by Randy; their son, Joseph Vance Sinisi; granddaughter Cassandra Sinisi; and a sister, Marion Derme of Buffalo, N.Y.

A celebration of his life will be held at the Denver Press Club on Oct. 14. Memorial contributions may be made to the Denver Press Club, Colorado Public Radio or the American Frontal Temporal Dementia Foundation (aftd.com).

 

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