William Forrest Gambrel better known as Billy, was born in the Frankford section of Philadelphia to the late William P. Gambrel and Ella (Forrest) Gambrel. Billy’s siblings include Donald (Willie), Monica, Priscilla Manzanet (Jose), the late William Billy James, the late Tony Tollerson, and the late Eddie Bell.
He was educated in the Philadelphia Public School system, graduating from Gratz High School in 1954. While attending Gratz High School, he developed his passion for sports which included cross country running and playing football. Also, in 1954, Billy married the late Charlotte Brown. His children include the late William Jr., the late Marcia (Yusef), the late Charlene, Keith, Susan, Lynda, and Susan A. (YC).
Billy was a Mason and a man of many trades. As an entrepreneur, he owned and operated his own business in contracting for over 40 years.
For over 47 years, Billy was a devoted coach and mentor to the youth of the Frankford Chargers. Through his hard work and dedication, he provided a structured safe environment for thousands of at-risk youth in a poverty-stricken community. His efforts transformed lives and the community became a safer place.
He was the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. The most notable of his awards was receiving the Greatest Living Philadelphian Award for being one of the 75 most influential people in the “City of Brotherly Love.” He was honored by the Philadelphia Eagles, the City Council of Philadelphia, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for his community involvement. Fox Sports Channel presented a television broadcast on his life and work with the Frankford Chargers and in the community. Additionally, he was the first living African-American to have a recreation center, Gambrel Recreation Center and a state of the art renovated football field named in his honor.
Billy believed in God, who he referred to as “The Boss” or “The Man Upstairs.” His life’s philosophy was to help others and enjoy life. His most memorable saying was “It don’t cost you a thing to smile and say hello, because it’s free.”
He was a devoted father and friend and is survived by his soulmate and best friend, Ms. Johnnie Mae Parker, who he affectionately called Ms. Parker.
Billy also leaves behind Redell Forrest (Aunt), Cheri Forrest Smith (Aunt), four children, a host of grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews and many more family members and friends.
This from Art McQuade, Recreation Leader at Gambrel Recreation Center:
On Friday, March 4″, 2016, Mr. Bill Gambrel passed away at the age of 79.
“Mr. Bill” co-founded the Frankford Chargers in 1967. What started as playing football on a dirt and rock field with a few local kids has turned into a staple of the community, on that has served thousands of kids.
Mr. Bill devoted 47 years of his life to the community. Eventually, the Whitehall Commons Playground was renamed Bill Gambrel Recreation Center. In 2007, major renovations were done to the facility, including a spraypark and a state-of-the-art Astroturf football field.
Not many playgrounds or recreation centers have been named after someone while they are still alive. This is the true testament to how beloved Mr. Bill was.
On a personal note, Mr. Bill was one of the most genuine, selfless people I have ever met. He was the first one in my office to welcome me when I was assigned to Gambrel. He always worked harder than anyone, even those half his age. He would do anything needed without question, as long as it was “for the children”.
I consider Mr. Bill a friend, and I am truly a better person for having known him. People like Mr. Bill Gambrel serve to remind us all how lucky we are to do what we do, and inspire us to make a difference in the life of someone in the community we serve.
From Darrion Shuford, Chief of Staff for Rep. Jason Dawkins:
Before the start of each season he walk around to every team in the organization and speak to them about life as well as football. Not only did he pick the trash up by himself, he would seed the dirt/soil with the hope that grass would grow, so that we didn’t have to play on broken glass and rocks.
Mr. Bill touched many young people’s lives as they came thru the Frankford Chargers Youth Organization, teaching them not only about sports but about life and the possibility of entrepreneurship and community involvement. This can be seen throughout our community to this day with the sights of many Charger Alumni that own businesses on Frankford Avenue and around the community.
In recent years he pushed to have the organizations name renamed to the Frankford Chargers Youth Sports and Mentoring Organization because we are more than just football.
In 2008, Mr. Bill got to witness the Frankford Chargers achieve the highest mark in youth football when his Midget Team won the Pop Warner National Championship. That game was featured on ESPN2 on Christmas Day of that year. Pop Warner along with Comcast SportsNet featured Mr. Bill and his work with the Frankford Chargers and the Frankford Community.
Mr. Bill and I would speak daily about the future of the organization and what his vision was for us to achieve that. One day while working in the office of State Rep Jason Dawkins, Mr. Bill called and asked if I could take a ride to the field with him because he wanted to give me something. I said, “Yes Pop’s, but we have to go on my lunch break”). When we arrived at the field Mr. Bill pulled out several keys and said “These are for you Chief, now let’s walk around here and see where they belong. I also have color covers so you can tell them apart”).
Looking back on that day, Mr. Bill was passing more than just the keys to the field to me, I believe that it was his way of saying “Chief, I TRUST that you will see my vision through by helping both this organization and our community reach its highest potential.”
Finally, I would like to encourage every reader of this publication to do what they can to encourage our children to become valuable citizens in and out of our community, to work hard at whatever they want to do and or become. I would also encourage everyone to “Smile and say Hello” because its FREE! I LOVE YOU POP’S AKA Mr. Bill
From the Editor
He was Mr. Frankford who called me “young man” smiling at the same time. I got to know him because he was always there. When there was an event with the kids involved, he would be there.
The only consolation to us from his loss is that he made the community a better place. I have spoken to so many men who have told me he made a difference in their lives.
Now they carry it forward, to do the same for others. So in a way, he lives on and the good that he did will continue on in the lives of those he touched.