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OPINION: Whether singing or selling, colourful Phil Gamester had game

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Phil Egan

Sarnia’s Phil Gamester had a miraculous voice; one of those God gave only to special people.

Lifted in song it would enthral and entertain and had the power to touch the soul.

Gamester was equally irresistible when making a sales pitch. The showroom of Gamester Advertising Specialties at 108 Christina St. was filled to the rafters with balloons, matchbooks, pens, calendars and his similar stock-in-trade.

And if you couldn’t come to him, he would happily roll into your driveway with his showroom-on-wheels, a 30-foot trailer riding behind a Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe.

My father, who operated an electrical contracting company in Sarnia, was one of Gamester’s constant customers. Dad loved buying the pens, glassware, tape measures and other items emblazoned with his corporate logo.

Gamester founded his company in 1954, one year after my Dad’s, and it was a common denominator that drew them together.

And they were genuinely fond of each other. Born a week apart in 1922, each had served their countries at sea – Gamester as a British sailor and Dad in the Canadian navy. During the dangerous Battle of the Atlantic they were allies and brother warriors.

Gamester had a warm and engaging personality that drew people in naturally, and he wrote a monthly column in First Monday that was thought provoking and reflective.

But Phil Gamester had another claim to fame. He was the only Sarnian to ever appear on the cover of Life – the hugely popular weekly magazine published from 1883-1972.

Life was renowned for the quality of its photography. A shot of the boyish, Mickey Rooney-lookalike British sailor tackling an ice-cream sundae was snapped in New York City, and it appeared on the cover in June of 1941.

While still in uniform in 1946, Phil married Helen – the love of his life – and the pair emigrated from Britain to Sarnia a year later. Helen was a trained musician and singer, and Gamester and his talented pianist bride starred in a host of Polymer Glee Club productions – two golden voices that could bring a smile to the hardest heart.

I have many memories of Phil Gamester, who died in Sarnia in 2013 at the age of 91. My favourite is the look of pure pleasure on my father’s face at Dad’s 80th birthday party as he listened to Gamester sing: ‘Oh Danny boy, the pipes the pipes are calling …’

Columnist Phil Egan is also editor-in-chief at the Sarnia Historical Society. Got an interesting tale? Contact him at [email protected]


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