The former ASUC president, who turned 100 this year, worked three jobs to pay his way through college before landing his first postgrad gig selling stocks. Only months later, Black Thursday launched the Great Depression, and Chester”Chet” to friends and familywas unemployed.
He scoured the Bay Area for work. The giant insurance company Swett & Crawford turned him away twice before finally agreeing to hire him to work in the basement as an errand boy. Zinn remained with the firm for about 40 years, rising through the ranks to become regional manager with a wood-paneled office with a view.
About 10 years after retiring, Zinn’s wife of nearly 50 years passed away and he fell into mourning. “I was cooking food, freezing it, and flying it up from Southern California because he wasn’t eating,” says Zinn’s daughter Linda. Friends convinced him to sign on for the first half of a two-month freighter cruise around South America. On board, he spotted Christine Miller, an 11-years-younger Berkeley graduate and recent widow who, in his words, “looked pretty good.”
Miller noticed him, too. “We began to get interested in each other around the Strait of Magellan,” she remembers, smiling. A side trip to São Paulo turned into a chance for the two to get acquainted, and soon they were spending evenings together on the ship’s dance floor. Halfway through the cruise, Chet flew home as planned— but he didn’t sleep that first night on American soil. “All he could talk about was Chris,” says Linda Zinn. “He said he felt like a teenager.” The next day, he booked a ticket south to reconnect with the woman who’d restored his spirit.
Twenty-five years later, they’re still in love. People often ask why the two haven’t married. Zinn shakes his head and chuckles in reply, “We don’t know how anything could improve.”