Just a few days ago, the reporter Bernard J. Scally went to the annual Dance on the Falls Bridge.
It’s an event seemingly made for Scally, a self-described “gentleman journalist and bon viveur.” The East Falls Development Corporation’s bridge party is fun and elegant, in support of the community, and a reason to get dressed up and go out on the town. He looked forward to it every year, and not just as an assignment.
In photos he posted to Facebook on Sunday, Scally grins broadly, a silk scarf around his neck and a straw boater cocked atop his head. His arm is around his fiancée, Monica Howell. They look happy and in love.
Today, Howell and Scally’s stunned family and friends are mourning his sudden passing. Scally died overnight, at age 33, of natural causes at his Roxborough home. His presence in his neighborhood and all over Northwest Philadelphia, where he worked as a journalist for Montgomery Newspapers’ Roxborough Review, will be sorely missed.
Scally began working for the Review in 2005, not long after graduating from Penn State University. In the decade since, he established himself as a trustworthy, accurate, dogged reporter and was a fixture at community events, civic meetings, and on the scene at breaking news. The only time he stepped away from journalism, however briefly, was to run for City Council in 2011.
He also wrote for NewsWorks, and we will miss him as a colleague and friend.
“I attend several community meetings a month and the only person who probably attends as many as me was Bernie,” said Josh Cohen, chief of staff for 4th District City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who represents Roxborough, Manayunk, East Falls and Andorra. “Not only because it was his job but he cared deeply about the neighborhood and wanted to bring as many stories back to his readers as possible.”
Cohen said he will miss seeing him at the annual gathering of locals who watch the Manayunk bike race at Winnie’s on Main Street. “Bernie would be there every year, and the last couple of years with Monica. His presence will be sorely missed,” Cohen said.
Bernie was the oldest of a generation of Scally grandchildren, now in their 20s and 30s, a guy they literally looked up to, said his cousin, Trevor Tierney. He introduced them to Dr. Who, Star Trek, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy — “but it wasn’t nerd stuff, it was cool because B.J. was into it.”
“He made it his business to be involved with, and to have an effect on, his community, his family, his city,” Tierney said. “He was the intellectual academic nerd, in the warmest sense of the word,” Tierney said.
Scally’s colleagues at the Review announced his death today, and will pay tribute to him in print in the Sept. 30 issue.
“We have lost a key part of our newsroom family,” said Thomas Celona, editor of The Review and Montgomery Media. “Bernie loved this community — his community — and all the people in it. He loved telling their stories and letting their voices be heard. He will be deeply missed both in our newsroom and in the greater Roxborough community for his dedication, his humor and, of course, his sense of style.”
Though his news reporting was centered on Northwest Philadelphia, he had deep friendships within Philadelphia’s large network of journalists and was a member of the board of governors at the Pen & Pencil Club, the nation’s oldest press club. In a room full of characters, he stood out for his warmth, his generous smile, and a wardrobe worthy of its own Tumblr.
— Pen & Pencil Club (@PenPencilClub) September 23, 2015
It’s not enough to say Scally was well-dressed. He was the kind of guy that words like “jaunty,” “natty,” and “dapper” were invented for, and he could pull of any variety of looks, from knickers and argyle socks on the golf course to lederhosen and suspenders at Oktoberfest to seersucker and a bow tie. Not everyone can rock a Fez and a velvet smoking jacket, but he could. Even during the times he wasn’t wearing a perfectly-curled handlebar mustache, it seemed to be always perched atop his smile.
George Beetham Jr., longtime editor of the Roxborough Review until he retired last year, said he hired Scally because he knew he would work hard and always keep the staff entertained.
“He never disappointed on either count. By far he was the best hire I ever made, and the longest tenured,” said Beetham. He helped bring the local weekly into the modern age, pushing forward into digital because it would help him get the news to more people.
“Bernie was one of a kind. He had well-honed journalistic instincts and skills. As The Review transitioned from a print publication to an internet site, Bernie drove our website and social media coverage,” Beetham continued. “Bernie did not just do something; he did it big as all life. He would joke, but he knew what he wanted and worked toward his goals. He was happy and proud to be a reporter for his hometown newspaper and went wherever the story was to report it. His loss is felt by many who worked with him and whose lives he touched. He left us way too soon. He was more than a colleague to me. He was a friend, and he leaves a big hole in my life.”
He had the last name of a big Irish clan, but shared an English heritage with his late mother, Lorraine, and traveled there to visit family. He shared the first name, Bernard, with four who came before him, but he was his thoroughly his own man — an authentic Philly original. He was a 2000 graduate of Kennedy-Kenrick High School.
He is survived by Howell, of Oaklyn NJ, a sister, Alissa Scally Scarbrough, and was predeceased by his parents, Lorraine and Bernard A. Friends may call Monday 6-9 p.m. and Tuesday 9 a.m. at the Fitzpatrick Funeral Home, 425 Lyceum Ave., and participate in his funeral service 11 a.m. at St. John the Baptist Church. Donations in BJ’s name to BSA Troop 474, 216 Pelham Road, Phila., Pa. 19119, would be appreciated by his family.