- 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’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.”
Edye 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.
It 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.
Our 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 Herald — 2/1/2008
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 Globe — 2/10/2008
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.