2011-07-02 03:53:48 UTC
Longtime 'As Schools Match Wits' host Phil Shepardson dies
FROM: The Westfield (MA) Republican ~
By Patricia Cahill
Phil Shepardson never would have wanted a mournful eulogy, says his son. He
wanted people to have a party when he left this life.
For 30 years, Shepardson was host of"As Schools Match Wits," the TV quiz
show that has run for 50 years, first on WWLP-TV and then on WGBY.
He died this week at age 76 in Hollywood, Fla., where he moved after
retiring in 1991.
His son Steven, who lives in Easthampton, said there was a lot more to
Shepardson than the low-key persona on camera. "He always said, 'I want a
party when I go!'" said Steven.
Shepardson was both an English professor at Westfield State College and, in
the days before "Wits," host of "The Wicky Wacky Cloud," a mix of drawings
and cartoons on TV.
According to Steven, "Wicky Wacky" became so popular that within a year, his
father was getting offers from Milton Bradley.
"But he didn't want to be a children's entertainer," said Steven. "He wanted
to be an educator. That always impressed me.
"Passionate, caring teaching was his thing. He really wanted to help his
students, but he wanted them to demand excellence from themselves."
"Wits" was a collaboration between Westfield State and WWLP from the time it
went on the air in 1961. Len Collamore, who produced and wrote questions for
the show, was a Westfield State alum.
Steven, 54, is the oldest of four children of Phil and his first wife,
Eleanor, who later became a lawyer and an ordained minister in California.
He recalls bicycling to Stanley Park in Westfield with his dad when it was a
"tiny little place." His father also liked tossing a baseball or football in
the backyard after supper.
Two of his siblings still live in Western Massachusetts, Lisa in Southampton
and Peter in South Hadley. Their sister, Ann O'Sullivan, lives in
California. A half-brother, Brendan, is in Florida.
Steven wanted to become an engineer, to follow a different career path than
his dad. But, sure enough, he said wryly, he wound up majoring in English at
the University of Massachusetts.
His parents divorced when Steven was 18, and his father moved to Florida
with his second wife, Colleen Flaherty.
There Phil founded the English and Communications Department at St. Thomas
University. He had another son, divorced again, but remained close to his
second wife, according to Steven.
His father loved the poetry of Robert Frost, he said, and liked drawing
He was a very positive person. If he got a sore throat before the show, he
still insisted on carrying on.
"He willed illness off him," said Steven, with a kind of incredulity in his
voice. "He was amazing."
Steven said the family plans to have a picnic in honor of Phil at Stanley
Park in the fall, which was his father's favorite season.