Harold J. Comfort, 75, former city recreation commissioner, Vietnam vet

Posted: February 26, 2014

HAROLD J. COMFORT was accomplished as a city official and an Army combat veteran of Vietnam, but a lot of people might remember him for the Lola Falana incident.

Falana, the Philadelphia-raised actress, dancer and singer, was in her hometown in July 1987 for a declaration by then-Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. creating "Lola Falana Day."

Comfort, who was the recreation commissioner, hit on the idea of fulfilling what he called one of the mayor's "wildest fantasies" by getting Lola to plant a kiss on Goode's cheek.

The mayor squirmed a bit in embarrassment as he accepted the kiss, then stepped forward and said, "I want to thank my former recreation commissioner."

That was a joke. Comfort remained in the job for several more months before he became an assistant managing director under James S. White in January 1988.

Harold Comfort, who served as a lieutenant colonel in two combat tours in Vietnam with the 82nd Airborne Division, a sportsman, city official and civic leader, died Feb. 16 at age 75.

He grew up in Germantown and lived in Roxborough. He graduated in 1956 from Central High School and later earned a degree from Hampton University in Virginia.

A graduate of the Army's Officers Candidate School, he became a commissioned officer after enlisting for full-time duty.

He and his future boss James White shared combat stories of Vietnam. In November 1994, they were among other vets who marched down Broad Street in the first African-American Veterans Day Parade.

White, who became executive vice president of Temple University after leaving the managing director's job, was an Army colonel in Vietnam.

The parade concluded with a rededication ceremony at the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors Monument at 20th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

"You could see the pride in the old soldiers who marched," wrote Inquirer columnist Acel Moore. "There is a crucial need for such positive images of African-Americans."

Those values were an important part of the life and careers of Harold Comfort.

"He was a hardworking man with the utmost integrity," his family said. "He will truly be remembered as an intelligent man with his distinguished smile, his tall 6-foot-3 stature, and the way he was always seeking a way to help anyone in need."

Comfort was appointed recreation commissioner by Mayor Goode after the former commissioner, Nathaniel Washington, resigned following a drunken-driving arrest.

When he joined James White's staff, White said that Comfort would be "working on a number of special assignments that I will be announcing as part of my reorganization of my office."

After his city positions, Comfort worked for a time for the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia, from which he retired.

Comfort was an active sportsman. He was a skier, tennis player and golfer. He served as president of the Philadelphia Blazers Ski Club and president of the National Brotherhood of Skiers.

He was a member of the Woodford Tennis Club.

His physical fitness was tested in July 1985 when Robert Sweetgall, who was walking thousands of miles around the country to promote the health benefits of walking, arrived in Philly.

After a talk at John F. Kennedy Plaza, Sweetgall needed to find his way to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to continue his hike. Comfort volunteered to show him to the bridge - on foot, of course.

It turned out to be a 10-block walk to the bridge, and another 10 blocks back to his office, but Comfort did it in July heat without a break.

Comfort had no immediate survivors.

Services: 11 a.m. today at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, 6361 Lancaster Ave. Friends may call at 10 a.m.

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