In Memory

Philip Axelrod

Philip Axelrod

December 14, 1946 to July 21, 2014. Age 67, the cause of death was lung cancer. Phil Axelrod was a devoted father, husband, and friend first and foremost. His other love was sports, which he wrote about for the Post-Gazette for 37 years and for magazines like Sport, The Sporting News, and Football Digest. While at the PG, Phil covered mostly college sports, including Pitt's glory days in football, as well as college sports of all sorts-mainly basketball-plus golf, tennis, and bowling. He loved his Buccos and was a devoted follower of his alma mater, Duquesne University. He cut back on travel when his son, Josh, was born in 1992, and he coached Josh in Dynamo Soccer for ten years. Phil and his wife, Sharon Eberson, authored a book on the history of the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic, and he provided radio color commentary for Robert Morris basketball for a season. The Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill was his home away from home, and you could find him there on any given Sunday morning playing basketball. He loved his hometown, where he still had friends since childhood, and was proud to say his son attended Allderdice High School, as he did. He is survived by his wife, Sharon Eberson; his son, Josh Axelrod of Falls Church, VA; and sister, Nancy Axelrod of Washington, D.C. Services at RALPH SCHUGAR CHAPEL, INC., 5509 Centre Avenue, Shadyside on Wednesday at 1 p.m. Visitation one hour prior to services (12 Noon - 1 p.m.). Interment Private. Please send contributions to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, 5738 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15217 or the American Cancer Society , 320 Bilmar Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15205.

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07/22/14 10:06 AM #1    

Philip Mason

I have fond memories of Phil. He was a great guy!

Here is a great Post-Gazette obit article:

07/22/14 11:53 AM #2    

Michael Brourman

   This is very hard for me to accept. Phil was one of my closest friends in high school and we remained close in college and later. Even after I moved away to California in 1975, we talked on the telephone a few times a year, and I saw him and his wife Sharon every time I visited Pittsburgh. The first time I visited Pittsburgh after my marriage, my wife (now ex) and I had lunch with Phil and Sharon my first day back at what I still refer to as Polonsky's on Murray Avenue, although I know it had another name by then. 

   Phil grew up on Phillips Avenue,only a couple of blocks from Colfax, but for some reason went to Linden. But, I knew him from summer softball games at Colfax even before he started TAHS. Phil's dad taught at the Pitt Medical School and his mom had a doctorate in Library Sciences and also worked at Pitt. His older sister Nancy went to MIT and I believe also is a doctor. But, his parents never pushed him to follow in their footsteps and let him choose his own path, and for Phil, that path was always sports. His dad, a season ticket holder for Pitt football, once said to me that he thought Phil's dreams were set the first year he attended Pitt games and Pirates games. When he was young, he dreamed about playing for the Pirates, but when the reality set in that wouldn't happen, he dreamed about being a sportswriter. And, he became one. He majored in journalism at Duquesne and then got a job writing for the Centre County Times in the heart of Penn State country. He was very happy when he got a job for the Post-Gazette a couple of years later, and I believe Phil worked there for 35 years before he retired. He met his wife Sharon there. She had been hired as a hockey writer. Ironically, hockey was the one sport Phil never was very interested in. I had a mini-season ticket to the Pittsburgh Hornets games back before Pittsburgh got an NHL franchise and I got Phil to attend one game with me. But he wouldn't go again. 

   Phil not only watched sports and wrote about them, but played them. He was a very good baseball player when we were young. He was a pretty good golfer and became a very good tennis player, being ranked in age group rankings in the Pittsburgh area. Phil also was a good bowler and when we were in high school our Friday nights almost always included bowling at Forward Lanes. And he was an excellent pool player and a frequent inhabitor of the Corner Pocket at Murray and Phillips. But his passion was basketball. He played at the IKC, at the YMHA in Oakland, in the 3 on 3 Summer games at TAHS' outdoor hoops courts, wherever there was a game. He loved to play the game and loved to watch it. And he knew every aspect of it. But, the one "sport" Phil probably was best at was Scrabble. He was unbeatable at that game, which apparently was played regularly in the Axelrod home. 

    Phil didn't excel in school but could have if he had applied himself. He was very smart, as his prowess in Scrabble illustrated. He just chose to focus on other areas and do enough in high school and at Duquesne to graduate. 

    Phil loved to debate. Some would call it arguing, I would call it debating. We had debates that went on for years, usually about Pitt football. But he could debate on almost any sports-related subject. You could not win a debate with Phil because he never relented. Most of ours, which took place on the telephone, ended with me saying "Well then, I guess we will just have to agree to disagree." I don't like to lose either. 

   After he got married, Phil became a devoted husband and father to his son Josh. Phil treated Josh the same way his parents had treated him, allowing him to choose his own path and intervening only when necessary. I know he was very proud of him. 

    A couple of years ago, Phil confided in me that one thing he regretted was not traveling more with Sharon. Before Josh was born, Phil had been a beat writer at the paper and had traveled a lot with the teams he was covering. He gave that up when Josh was born so he could spend more time with his family. By that time, Sharon had moved on from covering hockey to editing the weekend magazine for the Post-Gazette. Phil thought his disinterest in traveling as a couple was selfish of him and told me he wished he had traveled more with Sharon and Josh. Last year, when I decided to rent an apartment in Barcelona for my Bucket List Tour of Europe, one of the first calls I made was to Phil to invite him and Sharon to visit, since I had rented a two-bedroom apartment. He thanked me but said they were planning to take a cruise later that year and that would fulfill his long-distance travel for the year. From reading the Post-Gazette, it was on that cruise that Phil collapsed. Testing revealed that he had lung cancer, and he fought it for the last seven months. Phil never smoked and I don't believe anyone in his family did either. 

    Although our telephone calls continued regularly, Phil never told me he was sick. But, I wouldn't have expected him to tell me...or anyone else who couldn't see the effects of cancer treatment on him. If I mentioned that he sounded tired he would say that he just came back from playing tennis, when the reality probably was that he had been in chemotherapy. My last telephone call to Phil was in March, right after I had finalized the dates of my Bucket List, Part 2 European tour. I told him that I had rented a two-bedroom apartment in Barcelona again and gave him the dates I would be here. He said he would discuss it with Sharon. Obviously, by March he was far too ill to travel to Europe, but he didn't want me to know that. 

    Now that he is gone, I will never have a chance to win my first long-distance debate with him. I will miss him a lot. I feel terrible about missing the funeral, but I checked and there is no way I can get from Barcelona to Pittsburgh in time. He was a "what you see is who I am" guy, totally honest (except understandably about the cancer), moral and ethical. He was a devoted husband and great father. He did for a living what he loved to do and did it well for 37 years. It doesn't get much better than that. His was a life very well lived. I will miss him a lot. 





07/22/14 12:23 PM #3    

Marvin Chosky

I echo everything Michael said about Phil. He was a "Mench."

I played a lot of handball and poker with Phil. And, I was the transportation to the hospital the two years in a row that he broke his nose in our annual August touch football game at Carnegie Tech Field.

I also was his ride to Centre County for his job interview, he would never have found it and if he did, would have been late.

Although, I didn't have much contact with Phil over the last years, he will be missed.

When I think of Forbes Field, I think of us sitting in the bleachers eating grilled hot dogs and talking to the players in the opposing Bullpen. Those were the "Good Old Days."

07/22/14 03:20 PM #4    

Howard Oberfield

Mike...thanks for your thoughtful memories.

I got to be friends with Phil when he transferred into Linden in 7th grade (I think) with Ed Ruttenberg. We remained friends through TAHS though I don't recall us getting together much out of school. I believe he didn't marry until 30 or so and neither did I, so I'd run into him from time to time at the Sq. Hill Tavern on Forbes whenever I visited my family in the 'Burgh.

I'm certain he'll be sorely missed by his family and friends. His passing is a considerable loss to them and to his classmates.



07/22/14 04:55 PM #5    

Richard Vatz

I wrote this in the message forum, and I shall reprint it here as well...


At ages of mid-teens Phil and I were very close friends.  We also played many card games with Alan Schindler and others. 

I had some brief contact with him when I was in contact with Sam Nover in influencing him (Nover) to do a taped interview on the non-baseball side of my hero, Roberto Clemente.  I had little contact with him after Allderdice, though.

Phil was the least put-on personality I knew; he was honest to a fault.  With respect to an old cliché, he never "put on airs."

He was a very focused but funny ingenuous guy, and I think of him often. 

Tough, tough.



Rick Vatz

07/22/14 08:59 PM #6    

Frank Raspey

Phil, what a great person! and all around cool fellow classmate!  RIP.

07/23/14 01:55 PM #7    

Richard Fried

There was a time that I knew Phil very well.  We had great times together and I liked him a lot. 

Michael, thank you for writing in such a simple and heartfelt manner about Phil.  As I read, I was able to visualize Phil and some of his mannerisms vividly in my mind, some 40 long years since I last saw him.

Yes, Phil was honest and he was a rarity these days, a real individual. 

07/23/14 03:38 PM #8    

Ed Ruttenberg

Phil and I were very close friends back in our grade school days and transferred together to Linden Scool for 7th and 8th grade. We shared a lot of great times together mostly involved with our mutual love of sports: Pirate games, Little League, pickup softball games at Colfax field, one on one basketball in his back yard... He always knew how to make me laugh. I will never forget all the fun we had. Phil, May you rest in peace.

07/24/14 10:53 AM #9    

Janice Richman

I was at Falk School with Philip and Eddie Ruttenberg and Ralph Shapira and really enjoyed reconnecting with Philip and meeting Sharon at our last reunion. I remember lining up by height (why did they do that?!) and I was always the shortest girl and Philip was the shortest boy and he would made jokes to me at the end of the line. I told Philip and Sharon that I thought I had a school picture of him somewhere (remember giving your friends wallet sized school pictures?!) and they wanted to see it. When I went back to Montreal, I dug around in my boxes looking for it, but couldn't find it. My years as a nomadic university professor took a toll on my old photos and letters. I will miss Philip a lot. Mike, thank you for posting your wonderful memories. You're a great writer too.

07/24/14 02:15 PM #10    

Joel Wingard

So sorry, and stunned, to hear about Phil's passing.  I'd lost touch with him after high school -- as I did with almost everyone -- but after I moved back to Pa. I started reading the P-G online and was delighted to see Phil's byline (as a former classmate and as a journalist myself).  He was high on my list of people I hoped to see again at the reunion.

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