Hill Happenings

I was reflecting about my childhood friend, Phil Thompson, who passed away last month. My mind traveled to the great English-Latin football game at Harvard Stadium on Thanksgiving Day in 1966. I was among the 35,000 fans and I was cheering for Phil, a terrific player for English.

Phil grew up on Sunset Street in Mission Hill, and he was among the best athletes from the Hill. Phil also played baseball and hockey for English, and his coach in the three sports was the legendary Bill Stewart.

More important than his superb athleticism, Phil was a fine man. He was gritty and tough, but he had a soft spot in his heart. He was a deeply caring man who would extend charity to a stranger. Phil was loving father to his beautiful daughter, Elizabeth, and he adored his four grandchildren, spending countless hours with them.

Phil and I were Red Sox teammates in the Mission Hill Little League in 1961 and ’62 at Smith Street Playground, and we seldom lost a game. Twenty years later we were again teammates, for Winnies Pub in the Mission Hill Softball League. We’d play softball up the Hill and then soak up beers at Winnies. Life doesn’t get better than that.

Most of Phil’s friends attended Mission High School, which set the stage for a memorable baseball game at Jefferson Park when Mission hosted English in a non-league game with Phil at third base for English. Competing against his buddies John Killion, Bill Mullin, Peter Scott and Steve Casey and hordes of fans cheering like Protestants, Phil took several mighty swings. Over-anxious, the hulking long ball hitter struck out three times.

Phil’s best sport was football. I saw all his home games at White Stadium and I thought he had a chance to eventually make it to the NFL. He was that good.

“Phil played both ways, but his best position was cornerback,” said Phil’s English High teammate, Frank Williams, while sipping a coffee at Mike’s Donuts.

Frank played a key role in that eventful English-Latin game in 1966, tackling Latin quarterback Vin Costello on the last play of the game to preserve English’s 20-18 victory. Ben Schwartzwalder, the Syracuse University Hall of Fame football coach, contacted Phil about enrolling at Syracuse on a football scholarship. Phil, however, had his heart set on marriage and the military. By age 18 he did both, marrying his high-school sweetheart, Elizabeth Mayer, and enlisting for a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force.

Later in life, Phil, I and a few other close friends purchased Mission Hill Liquors on Tremont Street. Phil and I spent hours together working in the store, chatting and joking with the customers. Phil, you departed too early, but you left great memories.

 

Family and friends of Donald “Yogi” O’Keefe mourned the loss and celebrated the life of Yogi, who passed away last month at age 74. Yogi was retired from the Shattuck Hospital, where he was chief of the Campus Police force. He was loved throughout the city, especially from his Mission Hill community.

Yogi was a gifted orator with a unique sense of humor. He could captivate a crowd for hours with his storytelling and an ability to broach any topic. I first met Yogi when he worked at Ed Burke’s Tavern in 1970 and he served me a 35-cent beer. Burke’s was Mission Hill’s most popular pouring establishment. Yogi did more than bartend at Burke’s. In addition to serving beer and whisky, he served as a psychologist, a counselor and an advisor on any matter. Yogi was quick at breaking up fights at Burke’s, and he was skilled at preventing altercations.

Yogi leaves his lovely wife, Maryanne, and three terrific children—Donnie, Rich and Karen—and five grandchildren.

Yogi loved the guys at the Mission Hill Post, especially his best friend, the late Dennis Scanlan. I was at the Post when I had my last beer with Yogi, watching the Pats beat Seattle in the Super Bowl. Yogi loved football almost as much as he loved his Bruins. Yogi was a terrific Park League Football coach, leading the Killilea Club to the championship in 1970. In his later years, Yogi visited the Post only on Sundays when his favorite bartender, Joe Ryan, did the pouring. On those Sunday afternoons, I would stop by the Post with my coffee and muffin and listen to Yogi tell stories from the Ed Burke’s days. No matter how many times I heard the stories, they were still hilarious.

Thinking of Yogi, I’m reminded in the excellent book “The Last Hurrah” by Edwin O’Connor, paraphrasing Frank Skeffington speaking to Ditto Bolland: “How do you thank a guy for giving you a thousand laughs?”

For several years Yogi was an organizer of the Mission Hill-JP reunions. The next reunion, we’ll be thinking of our dear friend Yogi.

(from left) George Rollins, Bill Mullin, Mossy Martin, John Killion and Phil Thompson in a photo taken around 1987. (Courtesy Photo)

(from left) George Rollins, Bill Mullin, Mossy Martin, John Killion and Phil Thompson in a photo taken around 1987. (Courtesy Photo)

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