Gallagher’s Obituary

on Aug 23 in Gallagher's Frolics by

You could find him stamping the dates in books behind the front desk of the Chestnut Hill branch of the Philadelphia Public Library or shuffling back and forth, his torso tilting, head down, eyes taking everything in, waiting for the 23 to take him home. He was lean, with frizzy gray hair that looked as if he cut a different side every few weeks. He was absent-minded and disheveled, yet he had an encyclopedic knowledge of literature and religion, the ability to provide extemporaneous analysis of the most complex texts, recite from memory long passages of Shakespeare, Yeats, and Joyce, and recount ancient and obscure religious beliefs as if the visions of their founders, especially Emanuel Swedenborg, had occurred to him personally. Sadly, Bob Gallagher, poet, essayist, scholar, fiction-writer, actor, playwright, musician, and master metaphysician, passed away August 7th, 2006 after a brief illness.

Bob was born in 1945 and grew up in Bucks County, PA. At fifteen, he read the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare and taught himself the Egyptian alphabet. In the mid-Sixties, he attended Hobart College, where he studied philosophy, returning to Philadelphia. While working at Robins Bookstore in Center City and then at various branches of the Public Library, he wrote plays, including Faustus Unblocked, which was performed several times off Broad Street, an experimental novel, Lingerman’s Handoracle, which was excerpted in the Painted Bride Quarterly, and Whirlpool in Porcelain, a meta-memoir as well as countless poems, essays, book reviews, tracts and philosophical treatises.

Bob was a great punster, prankster and juggler, keeping up to five balls in the air, often after as many beers. He composed rhymed couplets and entertained children at birthday parties. He wrote and recited clever poetic tributes for his compatriots throughout the library system and played recorder in the Philadelphia Renaissance Ensemble, Quittidas. “He had a genius for putting words together,” lifetime friend, Leon Carlin said. Every Halloween, for the Ghost Walk in Chestnut Hill, Bob wrote and performed epic poems with titles like the Mummiad, Zombiad, and Vampyriad.

Bob is survived by his longtime partner, Kathleen Carlin, and dozens of friends who remember him as funny, kind, gentle and erudite. Many a night, he would hold forth in his kitchen or backyard with literary insights, philosophical rants, flights of imagination and ribaldry. He was the kind of person who made you feel smart, picking out from whatever you said, one idea he could commend you for and then build up, riff on and explain back to you in ways you never imagined.

Sometime in the next few weeks, there will be a memorial service. People who knew Bob or knew of him will be invited to bring and share stories, anecdotes, and poems. A posting will appear in the Chestnut Hill Local and in the Chestnut Hill branch of the library where Bob worked indicating the exact date and time. Anyone can contact local author, Don Silver,, with anecdotes or any of Bob’s literary work you would like to see preserved or published.

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