Thomas "Tommy" Thomson of Fishtown died peacefully in his home on September 16, 2023 at the age of 79. He was the husband of the late Barbara Thomson (nee Wible) and the father of sons A.J.(Megan) and Colin (Erin). He was the loving and adored Grandpop of Julia, Ella, Katherine, Allison, Caroline and Charlotte.
Tom was the oldest of 10 children born on March 16, 1944 to his parents Eleanor and Thomas Thomson. He grew up in St. Michael's parish and started work at age 8 with a local huckster to help his family. He was a proud graduate of Northeast Catholic Class of 1962. Though a superior athlete in multiple sports, his family's financial condition meant that he could not play sports for North, as he went to work immediately after school each day. Despite this, he earned a tryout with the Phillies in 1963 after many successful years playing for Fishtown Athletic Club. In 1965, Tom joined the Philadelphia Police Department and was assigned to the 6th District. In 3 years there, Tom received numerous commendations for his work, including one in 1967 for saving the lives of three people from a burning building despite suffering smoke inhalation that required hospitalization.
In September 1968, Tom was chosen to lead a Police Athletic League Center at St. Peter's Church on North 5th Street. The position changed his life and impacted the lives of thousands of boys and girls in Fishtown, North Philadelphia, Kensington, Northern Liberties and beyond. In his role as PAL Officer, Tom offered free opportunities for youth to play sports in communities that had no programs.
In keeping with his personal beliefs and principles, Tom insisted on integrating his teams with kids of all races, even when that meant dealing with disapproval and threats in the neighborhood he grew up in and called home. Despite the early resistance, Tom’s persistence and the success of the kids both on the field and in making friendships across the color lines made integrated teams the norm. Tom also offered some of the first sports opportunities to girls and continued to help them play and be a part of a team. These programs produced hundreds of All-Public and All-Catholic in boys and girls high school sports, including many who went on to play in college and professionally. Success on the field was not the only thing Tom directed. He stressed education and instilled a personal pride in all who played for him.
Beyond the ball field, Tom gave many of his PAL kids their first taste of the outside world. Whether driving a van full of them to Canada, organizing a barnstorming bus trip to Disney World, or just getting them behind the scenes access to the circus, Tom made sure kids, some who may never have been able travel much beyond their neighborhood, could see the opportunities available to them if they worked hard. Twice he took his PAL kids to the Oval Office to meet Presidents Johnson and Nixon, who both honored him and the PAL program for their achievements. With the aid of many friends and volunteers, Tom spearheaded one of the largest PAL chapters in the United States. Throughout the nation, his program was honored for its achievements and setting the standard for the great potential of the PAL program. He appeared on the Mike Douglas Show, NPR, and numerous commercials in the 70s and 80s to promote PAL and its great works. In 1981, he was able to bring PAL back to his home parish with a center at St. Michael's School in Kensington. Today, the 26th PAL Center located at St. Anne Hall on Tucker Street is dedicated to him after generous donations made by former PAL volunteers in his name helped re-establish the center in 2018.
In his spare time, Tom was a high school football official and an official for the Philadelphia Police sports leagues and Fishtown Softball league in which he also played and excelled. He was an accomplished men's rough touch football player with the Palmer Club and fastpitch softball player with Flatiron, earning induction to the Philadelphia Softball Hall of Fame in the 1990s.
In 1986, Tom developed a disability and had to retire from the force. He remained active in coaching and mentoring in the Fishtown community. He ran numerous sports leagues for adults and children and officiated thousands of games to help put his children through college. He worked for 30 years after retirement for local businessman Steve Eizen, who helped him stay on his feet despite his disability.
After his wife of 28 years Barbara passed away in 2002, he took on a new role, that of doting Grandpop to his six granddaughters. Every weekend he could be seen cheering them on at the games in various sports and then taking them out for a treat afterwards.
He leaves behind an unparalleled legacy of mentoring and teaching the important principles of life to thousands of then-youth who have passed along his message to tens of thousands of children in their own right. He did so as a humble, hardworking man who always stood up to bullies and fought against injustice on the most basic levels in the communities he served.
In addition to his children and their wives and his grandchildren, Tom is survived by sisters Eleanor Wilkinson, Lorraine Shilton, and Lois Thomson-O'Keefe, and brother, Bill Henderson. He was predeceased by his wife Barbara, his parents Eleanor and Thomas, brothers Bobby, Michael, Raymond, Eddie, and sister Maryann.
The Family invites all friends and former players to his viewing at St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church 2nd and Jefferson Streets Philadelphia on Friday September 22nd from 6-9 and Saturday September 23rd from 9-10:30am at the church with a funeral mass to follow at 11am. Burial will be public at New Cathedral Cemetery 3900 N. Front Street Philadelphia, 19140. All arrangements are through McElvarr Funeral Home at 1417 E. Susquehanna Avenue 215-739-1473.
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Tom's name to the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia 3068 Belgrade Street Philadelphia, PA 19134 http://www.phillypal.org or St. Laurentius School 1612 E. Berks Street Philadelphia, PA 19125.