LA SALLE University's Brother Joe Grabenstein used one word to describe Tom Gola during his eulogy yesterday morning. Genuine. Hundreds of people packed into St. Albert the Great Catholic Church to say goodbye to Gola one final time. Gola's family, plus friends, fans and Philadelphia basketball legends, were at the Huntingdon Valley church to remember Gola as an outstanding man. Gola died Sunday afternoon at age 81. He is still the NCAA's all-time leading rebounder, and is one of only two men to win an NIT, NCAA and NBA championship. He was the 1955 College Player of the Year and he coached La Salle to its best record ever, 23-1, in the 1968-69 season. "I thought the service not only served as a way of sending Tom off in the way that he should be, but I think it also served as a history lesson," basketball impressario Sonny Hill said. "As time goes on, so many people don't understand or identify with history. With this, it brings back history, because Tom Gola is history in what Philadelphia is all about." Throughout the service, history was abundant. Grabenstein brought up different points in history that few would have otherwise known, including that Gola was 2-0 as a head coach in the NBA. In 1966, Gola stepped in to coach the Knicks to two victories from the bench. As both Grabenstein and Monsignor Paul Dougherty pointed out, Gola was not one to take credit for anything. According to Dougherty, Gola always "did the right thing, at the right time, the right way." That dedication to doing the right thing is what made Gola an icon in Philadelphia. Dougherty's father, who attended La Salle, had a list of his most important figures. First was God. Second was the Blessed Mother. Third was Tom Gola. Dougherty was not the only person to feel that way. People in and around the city revered Gola, and many came out to show it on yesterday. "I had a chance to identify with Tom Gola as my hero," Hill added. "Then I met Tom Gola and we formed a relationship. For me, that's what this journey is all about." "Adviser. Mentor. He walked me through a lot of doors. He looked out for me," former La Salle player Lionel Simmons said about Gola's role in his life. Grabenstein referenced a famous Winston Churchill quote during his remembrance of Gola: "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." Gola gave Philadelphia a hero to cheer for. As city controller, he gave the government a straight arrow who took the higher road in politics. He gave his players a mentor. He gave the later generation a person to look up to. "I don't think anybody else has a body of work that could match what it is Tom Gola was able to do," Hill said. "He was so humble, and he didn't care anything about himself," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "It was always about the people around him." Even though Gola did not want it, the people around him took notice of his giving character. He wanted nothing in return for all he gave to others. Prolific figures such as Yogi Berra and Wilt Chamberlain adored how Gola was so talented, but he was a quiet man, worked hard and had class. "To me, to be able to hang out with him and go places with him was an honor," Simmons said. "He was big-time, but you would never know." Grabenstein remarked that Gola never forgot where he came from. A row home on 3rd and Lindley in Olney were the stomping grounds for "Mr. All Around." Perharps his humble, hometown roots were why Philly fell in love with him. "The fact that he may be bigger than any other athlete we have ever had in the history of Philadelphia basketball or Philadelphia sport is most identifiable because he went to high school here, he played college basketball here, he played for the Philadelphia Warriors," Hill said. "He never left the city of Philadelphia."
Hundreds pay respects to Tom Gola
Philly.com | Jan 31