Reporter Mayer Brandschain Dies At Age 88

Posted: August 28, 1997

Mayer Brandschain, 88, one of the nation's most enduring sportswriters, died yesterday morning at Vitas Hospice House at Allegheny University Hospitals/Graduate.

A lifelong Philadelphian, he covered sports as a freelance correspondent through seven decades, virtually every day from 1930, when he graduated from Penn, to the day he was hospitalized on July 29.

He covered essentially every sport in the area at one time or another and, after the death of his wife in 1968, rarely took a day off. Except for cancer surgery seven years ago, he seldom missed a day's work for health reasons.

Mr. Brandschain seemed to know everybody and everything about everybody in Philadelphia sports. He made his rounds every day, like a fastidious doctor, from tennis clubs to Boat House Row, from the Vet to Garden State Park, to golf courses, and arenas large and small.

He was admired not only for his vast sports knowledge, but for his pleasant disposition, his gentle speech, and an infinite loyalty.

``Mayer was always such a perfect gentleman - courtly, kind and thoughtful in all ways,'' said Maxwell E.P. King, editor of The Inquirer. ``He was the most durable and consistent journalist. In my 25 years here - a short time for Mayer - he was always there, delivering the story when we needed it.''

He consistently produced well over 300 bylined stories a year, in addition to hundreds of event results that carried no credit.

``When you walked down the street with him,'' said his son, Robert, ``people would stop and shake his hand and tell him how much they enjoyed his articles.''

Nancy Cooney, executive sports editor of The Inquirer, talked to him on the phone shortly after he was admitted to the hospital.

``I asked how he was doing, and he said he was fair and was being taken care of . . . and at the end of the conversation, he said: `Oh, say, Nancy. There's a tennis tournament and a golf tournament going on today. Would you make sure we get the results?' ''

Accomplished in tennis, soccer, baseball and figure skating in his youth, he turned his interest in athletics into the love of his life, second only to his wife and children.

He was on a first-name basis with many of the top Philadelphia-area sports personalities through the years, among them Bill Tilden, the tennis great who in 1920 became the first American to win Wimbledon; Connie Mack, the legendary Athletics manager; Jack Kelly Sr., a world champion sculler; and Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt.

Mr. Brandschain's journalism career began at the old Philadelphia Record in the 1930s, where his youngest brother, Herman, was a reporter. For years after that, he was owner and operator of a local news-gathering agency, providing coverage to organizations such as the New York Times, the Associated Press, United Press International, The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Bulletin, and the Washington Post.

His vast range of reporting included Philadelphia's professional teams and colleges, plus top amateur and club sports such as tennis, golf, rowing, fencing, squash and track and field.

``He was the local source in Philadelphia sports,'' said Fred Byrod, former Inquirer sports editor.

``A complete gentleman,'' said Bob Kenney, former sports editor of the Camden Courier Post.

Mr. Brandschain drove a green 1995 Toyota Tercel that resembled a rolling filing cabinet with his many boxes of file folders, notebooks and press releases, much of it held together by rubber bands.

He had some distinctly old-fashioned ways that endured in the Inquirer's high-tech newsroom. While he managed, with some frustration, to compose his stories on the newspaper's computer system, he frequently took his notes in pencil in the margins of program guides handed out at the events he covered. And while his younger colleagues provided editors with the estimated lengths of the stories they were writing by measuring the number of column inches or computer lines, Mr. Brandschain had his own quaint measurement: He would hold his thumb and forefinger anywhere from one to four inches apart and say, ``Oh, about that much.''

He had no telephone in his one-bedroom apartment on Presidential Boulevard, lived alone, and - too busy to cook - frequently took his meals in press boxes, at media luncheons, and at sports banquets. He was known affectionately as Philadelphia's press-box food critic.

``Some good pie today,'' he might tip off a media friend before an Eagles game at the Vet, sampling a bite as he spoke. ``The Flyers had some good soup last night.''

Almost everyone who knew him attempted to imitate his soft, quavering voice, which barely rose above a whisper. One of the best was Ralph Bernstein of the Philadelphia AP bureau, for whom Mr. Brandschain worked for decades.

``He was like a life preserver for us,'' said Bernstein, who retired in 1994. ``He was the most knowledgeable tennis person I was ever associated with. When I covered tennis, I'd take him and he'd give me all the inside on what was going on.''

He was the second of three sons, born Oct. 6, 1908, in Philadelphia to Russian immigrants, Harry and Elizabeth Brandschain. They owned a little corner grocery near Hunting Park Avenue and Ninth Street.

After graduating Northeast High School, Mr. Brandschain attended Cornell University in 1926-27, then transferred to Penn and earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1930.

In 1936, he married Rose Cohen, from Belle Island, Newfoundland, whose father, Nathan, owned a large department store there.

``He drove a Model-T Ford all the way to Newfoundland to ask her to marry him,'' said his son. She died at age 54 of scleroderma, a deterioration of the connective tissue.

In addition to Robert, Mr. Brandschain is survived by his daughters, Hope Nissenbaum and Wendy Brandschain, and two grandchildren.

Graveside services will begin at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Adath Jeshurun Cemetery, 1855 Bridge St. in Frankford. The family asks that any contributions be made to the American Cancer Society for colon and liver cancer research.

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