Exuberant entrepreneur and entertainer. Born March 13, 1922, in London, England, died April 14, 2013, in Sarnia, Ont., of natural causes, aged 91.
Phil Gamester had personality plus, a real larger-than-life presence. On June 16, 1941 when he was 19, his picture appeared on the cover of Life magazine, drinking an ice cream soda. He was a British sailor being introduced to the wonders of New York.
While serving in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, Phil travelled the world. He learned a little of every language he encountered in order to meet and talk to people in the many ports of call. Much later, whenever he entered a Greek restaurant, met a Dutch landscaper or encountered a Hungarian merchant, he’d be greeted with huge smiles when he spoke a few words in their respective languages.
Phil and his wife, Helen, were the first of our family to come to Canada, in 1947, and they chose to settle in Sarnia, Ont. Phil sent such glowing reports back to his relatives in England that more of the family emigrated, and we now number more than 60 Canadians.
Life was good for Phil when, in 1954, he became the successful owner of Gamester Advertising Specialties, selling all over Southern Ontario and hiring salesmen right across Canada. Phil would pull his 30-foot trailer, known as his “showroom on wheels,” into a small town, and within minutes customers were lined up at his door ordering calendars, matches, pens and other goodwill advertising items. Phil loved the interaction with people from all walks of life.
Phil had an infectious, hearty laugh that would cause everyone around to enjoy the moment.
One of his most memorable talents was his voice – a magnificent tenor. He would sing passionately with Helen, who was a trained musician, singer and pianist. They sang leading parts with the Polymer Glee Club of Sarnia in many Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, including The Gondoliers and The Pirates of Penzance. In church it was thrilling to hear their blended voices rise to a glorious finale in duets such as Arise O Sun and The Holy City.
Phil’s favourite solos were Donkey Serenade and O Sole Mio. He would delight strangers as he spontaneously sang those songs to whomever was around. At the age of 85, while in Toronto, Phil burst into O Sole Mio with some startled buskers in the subway. And at 87 he graciously sang Sunrise, Sunset at his granddaughter’s wedding.
Phil had to communicate as a salesman, as a singer and as a writer. He frequently had Letters to the Editor published in The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Sarnia Observer and the Sarnia Gazette. In his 80s, Phil began writing a monthly column for First Monday, a Sarnia publication. In a recent tribute to Phil, First Monday editor Chris Cooke wrote: “He used to describe himself as a ‘voice of reason’ in a publication infiltrated with shortsighted right-wing opinion. And now that ‘voice of reason’ is gone.”
Janet Snider is Phil’s niece, Judy B. Cyllorn and Wendy Bacola are his daughters.