Posted Tuesday, February 4th 2014 @ 4am by Jim Forsyth
William Sinkin, who made as big an imprint on the life of San Antonio as anybody who ever lived, has died at the age of 100.
Best known for his beaming smile and trademark bow tie, Sinkin was a leader in finance, civil rights, economic development, tourism, and, for the last twenty years of his life, alternative energy.
"He was a great man, a San Antonio icon and I will miss him," long time Greater Chamber President and current City Councilman Joe Krier said.
Along with his equally influential wife Faye Bloom Sinkin, who died in 2009, Sinkin was a member of the generation of intellectuals who came of age during the Great Depression, and due to their experiences of life in the 1930s, became lifelong advocates for social change and social justice.
But it was in that most conservative and establishment of industries, banking, where Sinkin first made his mark. The University of Texas business school graduate had an amazingly successful career in banking and finance, helming the Bank of San Antonio in the 1950's and 1960s, and, true to his lifelong tradition, made the bank a forerunner of social activism, encouraging equal housing and being among the first to openly loan money to businesses owned by women, African Americans, and Latinos.
Sinkin was born in May of 1913 to a middle class San Antonio family, and like to talk about how he went to work when he was nine years old in his family's wholesale clothing company.
While making his career as a banker, Sinkin never forgot his commitment to social justice. Sinkin co-founded Goodwill of San Antonio, and was one of the first chairmen of the San Antonio Housing Authority, which is where he first came into contact with attorney Henry B. Gonzalez, with whom Sinkin would forge a sometimes rocky lifelong partnership.
A lifelong Democrat precinct chairman, Sinkin was the first establishment Anglo to endorse then State Senator Gonzalez' bid for Congress in 1961, at a time when many were not comfortable with the idea of being represented by a Latino Congressman. Thanks largely to Sinkin's backing, Gonzalez became the first Mexican American from Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Sinkin and Gonzalez, along with WOAI's Henry Guerra, first floated the idea of celebrating the 250th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio by hosting a world's fair. Sinkin became President of San Antonio Fair, Inc. and used his banking and political connections to help put together Hemisfair '68, which created San Antonio's modern tourism industry.
Sinkin's commitment to human rights was unshakeable. He joined the late Rev. Claude Black as an early member of the nacient civil rights movement and worked tirelessly through his banking efforts, in politics, and in the streets for social equality.
Bill and Faye Sinkin, Bill proposed to her on their first date, were environmentalists before the word was coined. When Faye died, she was memorialized as the 'steward of the Aquifer' and a giant in environmental preservation. She was a long time board member of the old Edwards Underground Water District and when she died, she requested that memorials be donated to the Fay and William Sinkin Environmental Fund, which educates young people about environmental issues.
And it is in that cause that Bill Sinkin is best remembered by the latest generation of San Antonians. In the late 1980s, at a time when most people are playing with their grandchildren, the Sinkins founded Solar San Antonio. Bringing the same level of passion to alternative energy that he brought to every other endeavor, Sinkin was a pioneer in solar energy, and is credited with helping spur CPS Energy into developing one of the country's most aggressive commitments to alternative energy of any utility in the country.
Sinkin's annual birthday parties, in which guests, male and female, wore bow ties in his honor, were one of the city's great annual social events, and also a prolific fundraiser for alternative energy causes.