Philadelphia lost an amazing talent June 19, 2009 with the death of WPVI Sports Director Gary Papa at the age of 54 to prostate cancer. I first met Gary in 1982 when he spoke at a communion breakfast at Northeast Philly’s Archbishop Ryan High School. I wrote to him after and invited him to speak to my high school Media class and he immediately accepted.
Gary came to speak at Archbishop Ryan that year and again the next when I had a sports television show at the school “SportsScript” which he appeared on as a guest. We stayed in touch and five years later I was happy to surprise him when I showed up as an intern in the sports department at WPVI. Don Tollefson was a teacher of mine at Temple and offered me the spot, I can still remember Gary’s face when I walked through the door that first day, it was sort of that proud big brother with that ‘get ready to learn’ look.
Working in the sports department was a unique experience back then you had Tolly who was like a 1950’s convertible, laid back , under control, cool as a cucumber and then you had Gary, the high revving turbo powered sports car, merciless on typewriters with his hard pounding two finger approach to typing. Both men excelling at their jobs but with totally different approaches. As a youngster in this business it was an interesting contrast.
After I graduated from college I was working full time in politics as a press secretary as I sent out tapes looking to land my first television job but it was Gary who allowed me the opportunity to keep my hand in the business by continuing to intern with him on the weekends. Gary’s interns were often called “the lost puppy brigade” because he always had a slew of them and he went out of his way to encourage them all.
I remember I asked Gary to write me a reference letter once and he told me “you write it and I’ll sign it, heck write a bunch of them so you have them.” So I wrote about ten copies of the same letter praising my unbelievable talents leaving the date and the person it was being sent to blank. Gary happily signed them all.
When I look back on the above picture it’s vintage Gary from the standpoint that he’s listening to every word Scott was saying but watching intently to see what the competition had, he never wanted to get beat.
It was Gary who told me to remember one phrase “Polite Perseverance,” be a pain in the ass he said but be a polite pain in the ass. Gary Papa had a tireless energy that was contagious, something that applied not only to his job but to life. In 20 years in television I’ve never known another quite like him, I’m not sure I ever will.