Anthony Ferrara, 85, court maintenance head and handyman

Posted: June 13, 2014

GRACE FERRARA knew there was something dangerously wrong with her son.

At the age of 3, Anthony could barely walk. She carried him from doctor to doctor, but none could help him as his condition worsened to near paralysis. She would wheel him around in a child's wagon.

One day, after another fruitless doctor's visit, she broke down in an elevator in a medical building and began to sob.

A man asked her what was wrong. When she told him, he asked to look at Anthony, then gave her a card to Shriners Hospital for Children and a doctor named John Royal Moore.

The family never knew who the man in the elevator was - a doctor, guardian angel - but he saved little Anthony's life.

And the family didn't know that John Royal Moore was a legendary orthopedic surgeon, renowned for numerous innovations in the treatment of bone disorders, and if anyone could help Anthony, it was he.

It turned out that Anthony Ferrara had polio. And the ordeal that lay ahead of him was something no child should have to endure - eight years in the hospital, 16 surgeries, days and nights of excruciating pain.

Three inches of bone were removed from his left femur and used to create his right ankle.

Maybe the man in the elevator was an angel because his intervention would lead Anthony Ferrara to defy medical logic and not only walk again, but go on to a long and constructive life as a builder, family man and an example to other afflicted people of what can be accomplished with guts and determination.

Anthony Ferrara, who worked in maintenance for the Philadelphia court system for 28 years, advancing to deputy court administrator, a man who could do anything with tools, died June 7 of a massive heart attack. He was 85 and lived in East Torresdale. He had lived most of his life in Port Richmond.

Anthony was a carpenter, electrician, plumber, mason - you name it. He once bragged that he could build a house from the ground up, and his family and friends had no doubt that he could.

In fact, he helped a friend build a two-story hotel in Wildwood, even installing an elevator, working on weekends while employed by the court system. He also built a deck and two bathrooms for his son, Anthony Jr., and an addition to his own home.

"He was happy when he was working," said his son. "He would be whistling along, cutting up planks."

But first his father had to endure the kindly but sometimes brutal ministrations of Dr. Moore.

After months in a cast and physical therapy, Moore confronted his patient. "Anthony," he said, "do you want to walk?"

The 12-year-old boy said of course he did. The doctor told the nurses to get him out of bed and put his feet on the floor. He was then told to walk, and promptly fell on his face.

Nurses rushed to help him, but Moore stopped them. "Leave him be," he told them. "If he wants to walk he must do it on his own."

Eventually, Anthony was able to stand on his own, then take tentative steps.

On Chrismtas Eve 1940, his mother came to visit and Moore told Anthony that if he could walk to her waiting arms by the doorway, he could go home. It required all his strength and will, but the boy made it. And tearfully, mother and son walked out of Shriners Hospital together.

He was home for Christmas for the first time since he was 3.

It took, of course, a lot more work at home to reach the point where he could take a job. A voracious reader, Anthony studied his trades in books before embarking on his career. He also enjoyed reading medical books, and practically memorized the Merck manual.

"Friends would call him, tell him their symptoms and he would diagnose their condition," his son said.

Anthony was born in Philadelphia to Anthony and Grace Ferrara. He was able to learn to read and write while in the hospital and he obtained his high-school equivalency diploma after his recovery.

In the court system, he remodeled courtrooms and judges' chambers, eventually directing a staff of 50. His friendly personality endeared him to everyone he met, and he and the late state Supreme Court Justice James McDermott become lunch buddies.

"He was always positive," his son said. "He was so strong that way. No matter what the problem, he would solve it. He was the perfect father."

Anthony was married to the former Elizabeth Hall for 56 years. She died in 2006. Besides his son, he is survived by twin sons, Glenn and Gregory; a daughter, Cynthia; a sister, Grace Ferrara, and four grandchildren. He was predeceased by another son, Alex, who operated Al's Record Spot on Kensington Avenue.

Services: Funeral Mass at noon today at St. Katherine of Siena Church, 9700 Frankford Ave. Friends may call at 10:30 a.m. Burial will be at Resurrection Cemetery, Bensalem.

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