William Glackin

Bill Glackin died on December 20, while working at the Sacramento Bee, where he’d covered the arts since 1948. He was 85.

Glackin was born in Sacramento in 1917, roughly 10 years before the Delta King riverboat—now a tourist attraction in Old Sacramento—made its first trip between San Francisco and the River City. That was also 10 years before the opening of the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium (which was built, run ragged, nearly condemned and ultimately restored all during Glackin’s long life).

To put it another way, Glackin was born one year after Sacramento’s most famous journalistic export: Herb Caen. Caen, of course, went down-river to Baghdad-by-the-Bay, where he became the star columnist “Mr. San Francisco.” Glackin, whose personality was far more humble, stayed in his hometown and worked for the McClatchys.

Serving as the Bee’s arts correspondent put Glackin in an interesting position. His boss early on was Bee president Eleanor McClatchy, who was also the main financial angel subsidizing most of the cultural groups he covered. My hunch is that this encouraged Glackin to do what his personality naturally favored: He became an arts-reporter-slash-critic. He was knowledgeable, appreciative and far more gentlemanly in his remarks than anyone else I’ve ever met in what’s generally an opinion trade.

A typical Glackin story spoke of the works performed almost as much as the nature of the performance. He frequently made reference to the size of the audience, large or small. And he noted the applause at the end, especially if there was a “standing O.” (I suspect some social historian will find a treasury of data going through five decades of Glackin’s work.)

He often found much to praise; when you spotted Glackin at the Music Circus or the Sacramento Theatre Company, you could pretty safely assume that there would be a three-and-a-half- or four-star review in the Bee two days later. He wasn’t inclined to come down hard. Even when something was lacking, harsh remarks simply weren’t his style. His criticisms were polite and placed fairly far down in the text.

(There were times when I wished Glackin had been more frank. I think conductor Zvonimir Hacko’s turbulent run in the 1990s might have ended sooner had Glackin, as critic of record at the big daily, enunciated Hacko’s shortcomings more clearly. But again, that wasn’t Glackin’s way.)

But, even though Glackin was uncommonly kind as a reviewer, I don’t think he was a “booster.” During a period of years, while chatting at performances, I realized that he was utterly sincere. Conductor Michael Morgan of the Sacramento Philharmonic hit the nail on the head when, in Glackin’s obit, Morgan mentioned Glackin’s “almost childlike enthusiasm” for the arts. That was him.

Glackin worked two decades beyond nominal retirement age; when I met him (nearly 20 years ago, at the Carmel Bach Festival), he was already past 65. He just kept working, by his own choice.

Of course, time took its toll. At the Mondavi Center dedication last October, I noticed that Glackin’s colleague Pat Beach Smith lent her arm as they walked slowly to the car, to make sure his octogenarian gait didn’t throw him off balance and trigger a fall.

With Glackin’s passing, we lose a kind man who had first-hand knowledge of Sacramento’s past and also had links to legendary performers. How many still among us saw the likes of Paul Robeson and Frank Sinatra onstage, when both were in their prime, or Artur Rubinstein play Chopin nocturnes? You can’t replace someone like that. He will be missed.