Remembering Tom Cardella

Photo courtesy Monti-Rago Funeral Home

Tom Cardella began working for the South Philly Review in August 1964 as a television critic, then soon moved on to reporting on people, places and things.

In 1965, then-owner Leon Levin made Cardella the newspaper’s columnist.

For 58 years – through changes in ownership, management and office locations and the emergence of the internet – Cardella’s column appeared weekly on the pages of the Review.

Sadly, readers will no longer be treated to his wit and wisdom every Wednesday.

Tom Cardella died Thursday at Jefferson University Hospital. He was 84.

“I don’t think the South Philly Review will ever be the same without him,” said his wife, Fran.

Cardella’s last column appeared on April 12. It was entitled, The Luckiest Guy in the World.

At the start of that column, he spoke of falling and fracturing some small bones in his pelvis back in February. He was treated at Jefferson Hospital and Presbyterian Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Center, and dedicated the column to his welcome home by Little Vic’s barber shop and everyone else who made him “the luckiest guy in the world.”

Cardella planned to resume his column after cataract surgery, but began to experience kidney failure that required dialysis.

That kidney was donated to him in 2009 by his wife.

“It worked for 14 years, almost four years above the average,” Fran said. “They told us 10 to 12 years is the average.”

Cardella graduated from South Philadelphia High School in 1956 and Temple University in 1960.

At Temple, he was sports director of WRTI-FM. In his senior year, he gave an eager freshman named Merrill Reese his start in sports – assigning him to cover a Temple vs. Villanova baseball game, dictating the play by play into a tape recorder. An appreciative Reese later chronicled the story of his first break in sports in his book, It’s Gooooood!

Cardella was working as a social worker for the state when he met Fran, who was a typist in the office. They married in 1964 and were together for 59 years, living most of those years near 17th and Johnston streets before a move to Center City in 2019. They raised two children, Craig and Lauren.

“He was a really great father,” said Fran, a 1960 South Philadelphia High grad.

Fran recalls dropping off her husband’s columns at the Review’s former office at 12th and Porter streets every Monday morning.

“Tom started on a manual typewriter, then an electric typewriter and word processor and ultimately a computer,” she said.

Cardella leaned left in his columns that focused on politics, with the liberals at the Lombard Swim Club cheering him on and many residents of 19145 unhappy with his criticisms of Frank Rizzo and Donald Trump. His wife, though, said he wrote in a reasonable and sensible way, mixing in his brand of humor, and would answer all of his mail, positive and negative.

The columnist created a fictional character, Uncle Nunzio, and his topics varied from week to week.

“It was amazing how he came up with a topic every week,” Fran said. “He was just super.”

Fran recalls the March 1 column, Gone Dancing, that centered on the life of the recently departed JoAnne Lerario (Fran’s sister).

“That was one of my favorites,” Fran said.

Cardella was honored with Keystone Press Awards for columns that included one in 2003 titled St. Anthony and the president, which focused on George W. Bush’s search for weapons of mass destruction.

In 2005, he was inducted into Temple’s School of Communications and Theater Hall of Fame.

In addition to his newspaper work, Cardella was a broadcaster for more than 35 years. He hosted Eagles pre- and post-game shows on WIP, WYSP and WBCB, Merrill Reese’s station in Levittown.

From 1963-99, he worked at the Defense Logistics Agency, at locations at 20th and Johnston and on Robbins Avenue in the Northeast, as a buyer and congressional affairs officer. He earned commendations for his efforts and later worked in the same field as a private contractor.

His newspaper column, though, lasted longer than his other professional jobs.

“It was always something he enjoyed doing,” Fran said. “He never looked at it as a job that had to be done. He always did it with enthusiasm.”

Cardella is survived by his devoted wife of 59 years, Frances (Scroccarelli); son, Craig; daughter, Lauren; son-in-law, Keith; and grandchildren Eliza and Grayson (Samantha). He was the uncle of Susan (Frank), Sharon (Matthew), Kevin, Christopher, Eric, MJ and Charlie.

Friends and family are invited to celebrate his life at his viewing on Wednesday, from 7-9 p.m., at Monti-Rago Funeral Home, 2533 S. Broad St., with a service at 8 p.m., and Thursday, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m.

Internment will be at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St., Philadelphia, PA 19103. ••