• Years at WGBH: 1959-2008

From Jon Abbott — 1/28/2008

It is with tremendous sadness that I share with the WGBH family the news that our longtime friend Phil Collyer died yesterday of complications from leukemia. He was 68.

Phil Collyer

Phil’s career at WGBH stretches back nearly 50 years from his most recent role as the indomitable executive producer of the WGBH Auction and the Rare and Fine Wine Auction. Two among his many career highlights: working on our Oscar-winning profile of poet Robert Frost and helping to pioneer the development of captioning for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences.

All of us who knew him will remember Phil as an innovative and dedicated professional who was committed to our collective mission. “Phil personified the best of public broadcasting,” says Vice Chair Henry Becton. “He believed passionately in using media to make education and culture available to everyone. He was a great organizer of large production teams and motivated them with his humor and calm command under pressure. It’s hard to imagine ’GBH without him.”

Phil CollyerEdye Baker (right), who worked with Phil for 20 years in her role as WGBH Auction manager — and who was in close contact with the family during these final sad days — describes her longtime friend as intensely loyal to WGBH. “Phil welcomed the community to enter the world of live TV in support of ’GBH,” says Edye. “He had an uncommon ability to treat volunteers with such deep respect that their commitment to WGBH grew with each encounter with him.”

A Brockton resident and US Army veteran, Phil was raised in South Dennis and graduated from Yarmouth High School. In 1959, as a junior at Boston University, he began volunteering at ’GBH — four years after our first TV broadcast and eight years after our radio debut. During summer breaks, he worked in the ’GBH mailroom. As a graduate student in WGBH’s BU Scholar Program, he had an opportunity to run master control and assist with studio productions. Soon he was given the opportunity to direct a number of TV programs. It was while directing an art series called Images that he met his future wife, Marie, who was volunteering on the production crew.

In 1962, Phil became a full-time WGBH crew member, serving on the staffs of such early productions as Prospects of Mankind with Eleanor Roosevelt and College Sport of the Week, one of the first college sports television broadcasts. From physics to folk music, chemistry to college basketball, he produced and directed a diverse array of early TV shows for WGBH. In 1967, he directed America’s participation in Our World, the first-ever live, around-the-world telecast that famously featured The Beatles singing “All You Need Is Love.” For that historic telecast, Phil led a ’GBH production crew to New Jersey, where they broadcast live from the scene of the Glassboro Summit between President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin.

Phil CollyerIt was perhaps Phil’s time as the first director of The Caption Center at WGBH that would have the greatest impact on audiences across America and around the world. In that role, he spearheaded the effort to caption WGBH’s The French Chef with Julia Child, the first TV program ever captioned for deaf viewers. He also pioneered the captioning of news programs with President Richard Nixon’s second inaugural address in 1973, and went on to create our captioned version of ABC Evening News. The broadcast aired without commercials on PBS stations just five hours after the original ABC broadcast, at a time when same-day captioning was unheard of.

“Captioning all began with Phil,” says Media Access director Larry Goldberg. “It’s hard to imagine accomplishing all that he did with what we today would consider very primitive technology. But Phil’s ingenuity, persistence, and innovations live on and are enhancing the lives of millions upon millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing people the world over.”

Phil enjoyed sharing his talent and expertise with other PBS stations, helping them start or improve their own development efforts and their auction. He also volunteered to organize and produce cable and radio auctions, wine tastings, and other events on behalf of such non-profits as the Talking Information Center and the Easton Lions Club.

Phil reveled in time spent with his family, and he relished his annual trips to Jamaica and the Caribbean with Marie, with whom he spent 44 happy years. He loved the Red Sox and was a Brockton Rox season ticket holder. He spent many years as a Little League umpire and was a certified US Tennis Association official for many professional tennis events, including the US Open. He most enjoyed overseeing and officiating the national father/son and father/daughter tennis tournaments as well as many senior events at the Longwood Cricket Club.

Phil CollyerOur deepest condolences go to Phil’s beloved family, who had an opportunity to gather at his bedside during his final days and usher him peacefully toward the end, including Marie; son Philip; daughters Kathie Cornelius, Laurie Keating, and Wendy Potts; and nine grandchildren. If you’d like to send them your thoughts: Marie Collyer and Family, 224 Linwood Street, Brockton, MA 02301.

We do not yet have final details about funeral arrangements; QuickNooz will keep you informed. In the ’GBH tradition, Phil’s friends, co-workers, and former colleagues will remember him here in a Quaker-style gathering, which we’ll schedule at a later date convenient for family members to join us. QuickNooz also will let you know when that will take place.

In the meantime, Phil’s legions of friends and fans may share their thoughts below. And for those who may wish to remember Phil with a donation, the family has asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (www.lls.org). Blood or platelet donations also may be made through the American Red Cross or Brigham & Women’s Hospital Blood Donor Services.

In an interview for a series of WGBH oral histories, Phil recounted writing a high school paper on the relatively new concept of educational television. “I recall writing at the end of my paper that ‘Someday I hope to work for WGBH,’” he said. “I was fortunate enough to have that come true.” Phil’s good fortune was surely all of ours. We will miss him.

From the Boston Herald2/1/2008

Philip W. Collyer of Brockton, a television director and pioneer of captioning for the deaf, died Sunday at South East Rehab & Skilled Care Center in Easton after a lengthy illness. He was 68.

Mr. Collyer was raised in South Dennis and had lived in Brockton for more than 40 years.

He graduated from Yarmouth High School and Boston University.

Mr. Collyer began volunteering at WGBH as a college junior in 1959 and worked in the station’s mailroom during his summer breaks. He returned as a graduate student, running the station’s master control room and assisting with studio productions and was soon given directing opportunities. He began working full-time in 1962, serving on production staffs for shows such as “Prospects of Mankind” with Eleanor Roosevelt and “College Sport of the Week.”

Mr. Collyer in 1962 directed America’s participation in “Our World,” the first-ever live, world-wide telecast that famously featured the Beatles singing “All You Need is Love.”

He served as the first director of the Caption Center at WGBH and spearheaded the effort to caption Julia Child’s “The French Chef,” the first show to feature captions for the deaf and hard of hearing. He was also responsible for the captioning of President Nixon’s second inaugural address in 1973 and went on to create the “Captioned ABC Evening News,” which aired on PBS stations five hours after the original ABC broadcast.

Mr. Collyer consulted for several PBS stations around the country to help improve their development programs.

He often volunteered to organize and produce events, such as cable and radio auctions, on behalf of many local nonprofits including the Talking Information Center and the Easton Lions Club. He was a Little League umpire for many years.

He was a certified U.S. Tennis Association official for many professional tennis events including the U.S. Open. He most enjoyed overseeing and officiating national father/son and father/daughter tennis tournaments and senior events at Longwood Cricket Club.

He reveled in time spent with his children and grandchildren and enjoyed annual trips to Jamaica and the Caribbean with his wife. An avid baseball fan, he loved the Boston Red Sox [team stats] and was a season-ticket holder for the Brockton Rox.

Mr. Collyer is survived by his wife of 44 years, Marie (Amshy); a son, Philip of Norton; three daughters, Kathie Cornelius of East Taunton, Laurie Keating of Plymouth and Wendy Potts of Norton; a sister, Diane Stephens of Fitchburg; a brother, David of Florida; eight grandsons, a granddaughter and several nieces and nephews.

From the Boston Globe2/10/2008

Philip Collyer, WGBH director, closed captioning innovator

After helping Robert Frost carry his belongings from WGBH’s headquarters, the popular poet gave Philip W. Collyer, then a production assistant, a tip.

“Frost handed him a $5 bill, and he turned it back to Frost and said, ‘Thank you very much Mr. Frost, but WGBH paid me already,’ “said Henry Becton Jr., vice chairman of WGBH’s board of trustees.

Mr. Collyer went on to become a director and producer for WGBH in a career that spanned a half-century.

The South Dennis native, who helped pioneer closed captioning for television programming and ran the station’s annual auction, died Jan. 27 at Southeast Rehabilitation & Skilled Care Center in Easton from complications of leukemia. He was 68 and was a longtime Brockton resident.

Mr. Collyer “believed passionately in the mission of public media and about making education and culture available to everyone through public broadcasting,” Becton said.

Julia Child’s program “The French Chief” was the first US television program to include captioning for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers. Mr. Collyer had pulled funds together to develop captioning, fusing together the technology of running subtitles and courtroom stenography to create the text appearing on the screen.

“In 1972, he was handed this captioning project, and he completely took it on as something that had never been done before,” said Larry Goldberg, director of media access at WGBH. “It’s beyond innovation — it’s creating something out of whole cloth with no guidelines.”

As the first director of The Caption Center at WGBH, Mr. Collyer created the Captioned ABC Evening News, which was broadcast on WGBH five hours after it ran on ABC. That fast turnaround — all in the span of a few hours – was unheard of at the time, colleagues said.

When President Nixon’s second inaugural speech was to be aired in 1973, Mr. Collyer fought hard to get it on air with captions on WGBH. The station had not bought the rights to air it, but he was able to work his connections to get a Spanish-language feed, and it ran with English-language captions.

In the hallways of WGBH, he was also known as the embodiment of the annual live auction, launched in 1966, to raise money for the station.

“He was a great organizer of large production teams; he was the maestro of the Channel 2 auction,” Becton said.

Throughout the process, “He was able to create these masterful strategies where everyone felt they could participate,” said Edye Baker, a longtime friend and the former auction manager.

As executive producer of the auction, as well as the Rare and Fine Wine Auction, “He never lost his cool, never lost his temper,” Goldberg said. “In some of the most pressure-cooker situations, he was cool under fire.”

He was often called upon to put out fires — at least one time, literally. During one live auction, a viewer saw smoke on the set and called the Fire Department, which came charging onto the scene. It turned out to be a smoldering curtain, but Mr. Collyer created the “firehouse quickie” segment of the live auction to commemorate the excitement that ensued.

The logistics of coordinating the auction could be nightmarish, colleagues said, but he was able to bring together volunteers, give them a laugh or two, and keep them coming back each year.

“I think he inspired confidence, so people trusted him,” Becton said. “He had a common touch – he could relate to people from all backgrounds.”

And, in part because of his signature plaid shirts, “You could always find Phil on the floor of the auction when you needed to,” Baker said.

Mr. Collyer knew he wanted to go into public broadcasting from an early age. While a student at Yarmouth High School, he wrote a paper on the then-new notion of educational television. “I recall writing at the end of my paper that ‘Someday I hope to work for WGBH,’ ” he recalled in a WGBH oral history program in 1998. “I was fortunate enough to have that come true.”

As a junior at Boston University, he started volunteering at WGBH television. He worked in the station’s mail room during his summers before becoming a graduate student at WGBH’s BU Scholar Program.

He met his wife of 44 years, Marie (Amshy), while directing an art series “Images” when she was volunteering on the production crew.

He became a full-time WGBH crew member in 1962 and was on the production staff of programs such as “Prospects of Mankind with Eleanor Roosevelt” and “College Sport of the Week,” which station officials believe to be one of the first television broadcasts of college sports.

When the Beatles sang “All you Need is Love” as part of the famous “Our World” international-satellite broadcast, Mr. Collyer directed the US feed.

His ability to get people laughing at WGBH was legendary, colleagues said. He was often the one to write a poem or parody to send off an employer to a new job or thank the crew of volunteers at the annual auction.

“He was somewhat of a timeless person — he didn’t really seem to get any older,” Goldberg said.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Collyer leaves a son Philip of Norton; three daughters, Kathie Cornelius of East Taunton, Laurie Keating of Plymouth and Wendy Potts of Norton; a sister Diane Stephens of Fitchburg; a brother David of Florida; eight grandsons and a granddaughter.

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Dick Hiner

I just learned of Phil’s death from this website. I am truly saddened because while I hadn’t seen him in almost 48 years I still remember him as a close friend and mentor. When I arrived in Boston from Virginia in 1961 as a BU Scholar, Phil was the first person from WGBH I met. I was lonely with little money. I remember him sharing a peanut butter sandwich with me in his apartment. He took me to visit for a weekend with his parents on the Cape. He showed me the ropes at the studio and helped me when… Read more »

Tanny Tanjutco

After almost 50 years, it is sheer luck that I accessed the GBH scholar website and read your memories of Phil. I was hoping that I could get in touch with you and the other members of our batch. As a foreign student from the other end of the world, you were the first to show me warm friendship which I remember up to these days. I am greatly saddened to learn about Phil’s passing away. Among us, he had set his mind to be a great tv broadcaster which he had achieved with WGBH. Returning to Manila, I joined… Read more »

Jo'Anne Marilyn Kelly LaFontaine

Phil, his siblings and parents were great friends of my family their entire lives. We were like “one” family when “Aunt Dorothy & Uncle Phil” were with us.

Phil will always remain a warm and genuine friend in my heart and soul. It is his smile and hugs and love of life that I will miss.

My husband Larry and I had opportunities to volunteer at the ‘GBH auction many times – I was always in awe at “Phil” at work.

My love for Phil will go on – my love to Marie & family.

Nan Holmes

Phil taught me everything about a PBS auction. He lilterally came to Waco for a couple of the weeks the first time, but I wasn’t involved that year. The first year I was in charge, I called him over fifty times, sometimes late at night, for help. He never once acted as though I were imposing. He was very helpful in that calm, gentle voice. I was always so glad to see him at Development Conference and I enjoyed all his tales about early public broadcasting at WGBH. He had a few tales of his own about Waco, which were… Read more »

Mary Ellen Gearin

I was startled and saddened to learn of Phil’s passing. In my early days as an Auction volunteer, I was pleased and touched that he would remember my name and those of so many volunteers from year to year amid all the hubbub. Once I became a table captain, I confess part of my incentive in trying to do a good job was to never become part of his training sessions on “How NOT to be a Table Captain.” When mistakes did happen (“Did you thank the donor?!?”), I knew as long as I got the information out over the… Read more »

Susan Kaplan

In 1994, when I was hired by Edye Baker to be acquisitions manager of the WGBH Auction, I thought I was getting a job. And, although this was true, I really got a family. This large Auction family, composed of staff and volunteers, was headed by Edye and Phil. Each year we worked hard to produce the Auction. Phil could sell anything, and he knew just how to make donations look good in order to bring in the highest bids. I can picture him now, standing in the the center of the Auction set in his plaid shirt, monitoring and… Read more »

Bill Francis

As far as I know, Phil Collyer was the only person to work actively in all three of the permanent WGBH locations: the original studios at 84 Massachusetts Avenue, the 125 Western Ave site, and the new One Guest Street building.

Even though there were others who may have spent time briefly at One Guest Street, Phil was an employee at all three places. He will be greatly missed.

Ken Horseman

I was hired in 1971 by Jack Caldwell as one of the first employees of WGBY in Springfield and began working on The Reporters. One of my first year assignments was to produce the first WGBY Auction. I spent a week for two years running learning what this “auction thing” was all about — and who better to have as a mentor than Phil. I remember him running to the hotel window and looking over to the station hoping to see the plumes of steam rising from the building, and when on occasion that didn’t happen seeing him bound out… Read more »

Sue Walker

I came to Boston with my husband from London and worked as a volunteer for the Auction, typing scripts for the Two Collection and then with encouragement from Phil and the rest of the Auction, I became one of the Auction staff working closely with Phil on different fundraising productions. The fun, the immense kindness and the professionalism is what I remember. When I left to go back to England, my treasured possession was Phil’s reference — he said “Please don’t hire her! We want her back!” He always knew how to make people feel special. Since coming back to… Read more »

Lo Hartnett

Phil is probably one of the few who has worked in almost every department of the station over his many years. In the early 80’s, he was my Pledge Producer and Special Events manager for Membership. One year during our March “Festival” pledge drive, he spruced things up by adding brightly colored helium balloons to the phone tables and around the studio. After each pledge break, the “talent” and director would sit with Phil to strategize on the next break. This night, Phil wanted to cheer us up, so before beginning, he secretly sucked on a balloon and started to… Read more »

Helen Andrews

As “business manager” of The Channel 2 Auction from 1983 to 1989, I had the privilege of working with Phil. I also worked under his direction as a pledge volunteer back in the days of pie charts and toteboards. When pledge drives began to feature guests, Phil asked me if my son, a huge “Dr. Who” fan, would like to meet not only one of the Doctor’s co-stars, but the current incarnation of the character — one on one, before the crowds showed up! Phil often provided opportunities for Morgan to participate in special events at the foundation, whether it… Read more »

Jody Maruca

How do you pay tribute to an icon? Channel 2 Auction week quickly became a family thing in our household when I was a teenager. Phil Collyer was the host that led you from tables A, B & C, passing the excitement and the frenetic energy into our homes. I remember telling my older sister at the time that I wanted to “do that” when I was old enough. Flash forward thirty years and a chance conversation with Phil (that started with my foot in my mouth), ended with him inviting me to be a table captain at the Auction.… Read more »

Mike McKenzie

I met Phil at the PBS Auction Conference in New Hampshire last year. I had heard such great things about WGBH’s Auction and was excited to meet him. He was a great guy with a wealth of knowledge and I appreciated the information he shared. I am sorry to hear of his passing.

Stephen Mould

I knew Phil through attending the WGBH wine auctions as wine auctioneer over several years. He always made Jenny and I feel welcome in Boston, was kind, generous, and had a lovely sense of humour. The auctions always ran smoothly and without a hitch under his direction. He was a superb organiser and had time for everybody. We enjoyed some wonderful dinners with Phil and Marie both before and after each auction and shared his enjoyment for wine. He was incredibly thoughtful. At one WGBH auction a couple of years ago I brought the gavel (hammer) down a bit too… Read more »

Maggi Lubov

The late 1970’s found me working for Phil at WGBH. He brought his energy and humor every day to managing the daily activities of the station including the scheduling office where I worked. I admired Phil’s tenacity, fortitude, and ability to deal with all conditions in a clear and thoughtful manner. I am saddened to learn of Phil’s death but glad in my heart that I can honestly say I knew him as a friend. I recently came across a letter Phil wrote me in the early 1980’s and I spent some time thinking I would contact him and set… Read more »

Sara Beth Stern

I worked on the Auction for 12 years and really enjoyed the chance to work with Phil. I was responsible for the clothing that was modeled for the last 5 years of that part of the Auction. That gave me the opportunity to work fairly close to Phil as he made things happen on air and I did my best to get the models on air. Then I got to work the Fine Wine and DIne weekend for many years and that was really special. He really knew how to put on a great show. There are so many delightful… Read more »

Joanna Rothman

Phil was among my interviewers for my job at WGBH. It was arguably the most comfortable interview I’ve ever had … we just sat & talked for an hour. It was like we had known each other forever.

Over the past year, he helped acclimate me to WGBH and shared so much of its rich history. I will miss seeing him every day and sharing our compassion for the volunteers of ‘GBH.

Mary Walling

In the 23+ years that I knew Phil and worked with him at the Auction, he never seemed to change — never looked older, never was sick. Maybe because of that I thought he would always be there. I was shocked when a former go-getter of mine called me Monday night to tell me that Phil had left us.

I had a wonderful last chat with Phil when I was high bidder on an item at the end of the last PAA. Can’t believe he’s gone — I’ll miss him terribly.

My deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

Leah Weisse

Like most people, I met Phil through the WGBH Auction. I was new to WGBH and my department head encouraged all of us to volunteer with the Auction. I did everything from taking bids to running them over to the board to board marking. I usually was on the late shift and stayed till the final sign off for the night, then stayed for the nightly trash lottery Phil ran. Who could miss getting a twinkie (just one) for turning in trash? After a couple of years I was asked to be a table captain and interact with the guest… Read more »

Petrina Katsikas

Phil was an absolutely wonderful man and I will miss him terribly. I had so much fun at the auction and he was a huge part of why it was fun. Thank you Phil. Sincerely, Petrina (WGBH Creative Services).

Suzie Cormier

I did not know Phil, but am best friends with his sister, Diane Stephens. I saw Phil, with Diane last Friday and met his wonderful family and 2 of his co-workers.

Teresa Durocher

I am fairly new to WGBH having just started with the Docent program over the summer.

During one of the evening opening events, Phil and I were scheduled in the Radio hall way, and there was very little traffic.

But it was one of my favorite events because Phil told me the history of WGBH’s various locations, his passion about WGBH showed through his story.

I am grateful for that one evening with him, I am sure he will be greatly missed.

Don Hallock

I was at WGBH when Phil first appeared as a volunteer, and later, when he came back as a Boston University Scholar. We worked on more shows together than I can remember or count, and I was always happy to see him there as a co-worker — especially in those “hazard laden” days of “live.” Partnered with Phil in any capacity always made me feel more secure. Phil truly earned his stripes through diligence, dedication, and a wonderful cooperativeness. He rarely, if ever, made a mistake. My experience of Phil was that of someone who loved television as a field… Read more »

Olivia Wong

When I first met Phil, it was actually Phil that was meeting me, and I didn’t even realize it. As a competitive tennis player in my youth, Phil had served as a umpiring official at numerous local tournaments. His wife, Marie, also an umpiring official, had overseen competitive matches that I had played in college. But the association was only at an arm’s length — officials don’t interact with players in order to maintain their neutrality. I only truly met Phil at a function for the regional tennis governing organization years later, where he went out of his way to… Read more »

Sandy Chin

I had the honor and pleasure of working with Phil on Auction for the past two years. I cannot begin to tell you all that I have learned from him, not just about Auction, but also about WGBH.

Through an unselfish willingness to share knowledge, experiences, thoughts, and stories (and there were plenty!), he had an amazing way of connecting and working with people. I will miss that unique feeling of connectivity he always brought to the Auction.

But most of all, I will miss his guidance, his laughter and friendship.

Bill Cosel

As part of the 1962 WGBH/BU Scholars we all met Phil who took us through the drill of learning the ingredients making TV programs. He was a great teacher.

Patient and kind as we all took turns (with mixed results) running cameras, stage managing, and directing simple studio shoots.

Thanks, Phil, for the gentle landing into what we all knew would be a wonderful career … if only we could be like you.

Patsy Ives

Phil and my husband, David Ives, were friends as they both loved WGBH and the Auction! They had such fun together over 40 years when David hosted the Auction.

Phil gave me many of the Auction tapes after David died and I will treasure them. He also helped me to do the “New England Getaways” Show for the Auction. I have given David’s “Bid-Bid-Bid” apron to be displayed in the new building in honor of all those years!

Maria Sherry Murphy

As a young college graduate, I had the pleasure of working on the Auction for three years with Phil as producer. He immediately made me feel like an important part of the auction family, although I was definitely the “newbie.” I remember when I left ‘GBH to go to WYES in New Orleans as Auction Manager, Phil wrote a song for my going away party to the tune of Bye, Bye, Blackbird. He was a great role model and friend to this impressionable then 22 year old, and the memory of his friendship has not faded over the last 25… Read more »

Barbara Levitov

A gentle man. If it weren’t for Phil, I would not have been at WGBH nor met all the wonderful people surrounding my long tenure there. Phil hired me, say in 1972, as one of the original “7” who started the Caption News for the Deaf. I was a young teacher of the deaf and saw that bringing news to the deaf and hard-of-hearing was important. Thus, I was recruited as a Language Specialist to work with developing captioning and with deaf people across the country. He made my years under his tutelage one of learning and fun. Whoever touched… Read more »