For years, Channel 6's anchor and Sports Director Gary Papa was a Philadelphia institution.
But to one colleague, he was so much more.
"Quite simply, Gary Papa is the reason I am here," says Jamie Apody, Channel 6 sports reporter and anchor who was hired by Papa in 2006.
That's why Apody serves as the co-chair for the annual Gary Papa Run, a 5K event hosted by Prostate Health International. The run will benefit local prostate cancer awareness, education and research in honor of Gary Papa, who lost his own well-publicized battle with prostate cancer in 2009 at the all-too-young age of 54.
"Gary was all about early detection—because he admitted he let it go, and didn't get checked out early enough," explains Apody. "If he had, maybe he'd still be with us today."
Building a Legacy—and a friendship
Jamie Apody, originally from Los Angeles, came to Philadelphia for an interview with 6ABC in January of 2006. She passed the interview with flying colors, but there was one problem: sports director Papa was out on the road covering the Eagles at the time.
"So they flew me back a second time for the sole purpose of meeting Gary," Apody recalls. "And this was not like any other interview I'd had."
Instead of asking for references, Papa asked Jamie what kind of music she enjoyed. Rather than ask her where she saw herself in five years, Papa asked Jamie if she'd like some pistachios—then advised her not to eat any, because they'd gone stale.
"He was different," she laughs. "But I knew I'd like working with this guy."
But Philadelphia is a long way from L.A., and Apody soon found herself in a new city where she didn't know a soul. "Thankfully, Gary Papa and his wife [Kathleen] became like best friends to me," Apody says. "They'd pick me up and take me to dinner on the weekends."
All the while, Gary Papa was fighting the battle of his life against prostate cancer. He'd have good days and bad days, but as time went on, the latter began to outweigh the former.
"When my homesickness got to me, I'd talk to Gary," remembers Apody. "Gary would say, 'You've got to stay until my next birthday.'"
In April of 2009, Hall of Fame Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas suddenly passed away. At the same time, Gary Papa was losing the battle with prostate cancer.
"I knew Harry's funeral would be an emotional day for all of us, but especially Gary," says Apody. "So I took along a guy I'd started dating. We'd known each other maybe a month at this point."
As sick as he was, the next day Gary was full of energy talking to his wife and Jamie.
"Kathy… Kathy! This guy, you've got to meet him! She's gonna marry this guy, Kathy!" Apody recalls Papa exclaiming. Sure enough, in 2011 Jamie Apody did tie the knot with Paul Coleman. (The couple now has a young son.)
"It means the world to me," Apody says, "that Gary Papa got to meet the man I married just one time."
The 7th annual run was scheduled for June 21, 2009. On June 19, Gary Papa lost the battle.
"That run two days later became a celebration of his life," recalls Apody. "Dave Roberts, Jim Gardner—they both got up and spoke about Gary and everything he meant to them. Finally, that day they officially named the race in Gary's honor."
One other thing happened that day—Jamie Apody was approached about assuming the position of co-chair. "Easy decision," she says. "Here's someone who meant so much to me… there was no chance I'd say no."
Papa's passing meant more than a new name for the race—it also triggered a huge burst of popularity. "The next year—2010—we get out there and it's probably tripled in size," says Apody. "We actually ran out of water. We were overwhelmed by the interest."
This Father's Day, June 16, Apody and co-chair John J. Dougherty of IBEW Local 98 expect to see in excess of 5,000 runners at Eakins Oval. "We have chip timing for runners now. We have more runners, more sponsors. We have enough water!" Apody laughs.
The top three finishers will receive cash prizes from a fund arranged by Gary Papa years ago. "If you want to know the kind of guy Gary was, just think about that," says Apody. "He basically said, 'Hey, get out here and run fast. If you can do it… you can have my money.'"
In a decade, the annual race has grown to nearly 10 times its original size thanks in large part to the memory of one man. What would Papa say if he were still here? Surprisingly, Apody thinks he wouldn't want to see the runners there at all.
"Gary always said his goal was that we wouldn't need the run anymore. He wanted an end to prostate cancer," she said of her friend and mentor. "He always used to say, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could all sleep in on Father's Day?'"