William Henry Lingham Jr., 83, of South Philadelphia, a government worker for almost four decades, died Monday, July 20, of complications from dementia at his home.
Mr. Lingham was the eldest of 15 children – 11 girls and four boys – born in Philadelphia to Evelyn Church and William H. Lingham Sr.
He was baptized in 1947 at St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church, the mother church for Black Catholics in Philadelphia dating to the 1880s. It closed in 2019.
Mr. Lingham graduated from South Catholic High School in 1953. Several years before he graduated, his mother was killed in a street crime at 20th and Federal Streets. He helped his father deal with the aftermath.
“Junior,” as Mr. Lingham was affectionately known, acted as a surrogate parent to his 14 siblings.
“He taught them how to be caring, honest, loving, responsible, respectable, hardworking citizens,” the family said in a statement.
“He raised the children. He was a good guy,” said his daughter, Veronica Lingham-Johnson.
Immediately after high school, he and friend Frank Washington enlisted in the Air Force. He was stationed in Germany and honorably discharged in 1962 with the rank of airman. He was a communication specialist, with mastery of the teletype and encryption, according to his military discharge papers.
Starting in 1962, Mr. Lingham worked for the Philadelphia Water Department as a water quality inspector, sometimes operating from a boat. That got old very quickly, his daughter said.
He then joined the U.S. Post Office in South Philly as a mail carrier, but he was chased by a vicious dog one day, and that soured him on mail delivery.
“He could tell you a story about this that was so funny it would have you crying,” his daughter said.
He transferred to the Federal Protective Service, the precursor to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, working in teletype communication from the federal building at Sixth and Arch Streets. His final job before retiring in 1994 was as a federal dispatcher for the security police guarding the U.S. Courthouse.
When he retired, he was presented with a plaque from the federal government’s General Services Administration honoring him for 38 years of public service.
Mr. Lingham married Elizabeth Allen Jackson in 1988, although they were together for a total of five decades. They were an iconic couple on Moore Street until her death in 2008.
He was block captain and she his helper when it came to community events. On July 4 and Labor Day, the two would host block parties for all their neighbors. She also opened her home on Thanksgiving to her extended family. “We all came home for that,” her daughter said.
“He often would treat the neighborhood children to treats from the ice cream truck,” the one with twinkling music that roamed the streets in summertime, his family said. “All the kids on the block loved him.”
He liked playing pinochle and hearts. He enjoyed hanging out with friends at 20th and Reed Streets. “That was his area, he practically grew up there,” his daughter said. “He would say: ‘I come from 20th and Reed. Don’t get it twisted.’ ”
A patron of the Wander Inn Lounge, he appreciated the tavern’s jazz offerings on weekends.
“He made everybody laugh. He was loved by everybody. My girlfriends would meet my dad and not leave,” his daughter said. “He would say: ‘Sit down, sit down. Where you been?’ ”
His family said Mr. Lingham was respected and admired by his friends and members of the community.
He was a longtime member of St. John the Evangelist Church at 13th and Market Streets.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by sons Willie Allen, Milton Allen, and Sean Lingham; five grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and nieces and nephews. Seven of his siblings survive; seven others died earlier.
Services were Thursday, July 30, with interment at Merion Memorial Park in Bala Cynwyd.