Alexander M. Haig Jr.'s roots run deep in the Philadelphia area.

He worked at a refinery and at the John Wanamaker department store. And by one critical measure, he was a true Philadelphian: He was an Eagles fan.

Gen. Haig, who served in three Republican White Houses, was born in Overbrook in 1924 and grew up on Bryn Mawr Avenue in Bala Cynwyd.

His father, Alexander Haig Sr., was an assistant city solicitor in Philadelphia who died of cancer when his son was 10.

Gen. Haig, who was chief of staff for Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford and secretary of state for President Ronald Reagan, later described his Montgomery County upbringing as a "conventional middle-class life."

He was the second of three children; his sister became a lawyer and his younger brother a priest.

"When we lived in Cynwyd where he grew up, he always wanted to paint the neighbors' garages or play his set of drums and the guitar," his mother, Regina, told Parade magazine in 1973.

"Our house was usually filled with his friends, Jim White, Al Conway, and other names I can't remember," his mother said. "Alex was always so open and friendly. So good with people."

According to his family, young Alexander Haig fixated on becoming a soldier after he was given a bugle at age 4.

He attended primary school at St. Matthias in Bala Cynwyd, where he was captain of the football team. He later attended St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia.

But his mother learned that her son's chances of being admitted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point were better if he did not attend Catholic school. So he entered Lower Merion High School.

His time at Lower Merion was unremarkable. He did not play on sports teams because he worked part time at the Atlantic Richfield refinery in South Philadelphia and as a floorwalker at Wanamakers.

In Lower Merion's 1942 yearbook, he was described as "a tireless prankster" whose lone activity was Spanish Club 3. Teachers interviewed by The Inquirer in 1980 could not remember him.

Gen. Haig later recalled that his principal at Lower Merion High told him he would never make it to West Point because his marks were too low.

But Gen. Haig was defiant. He turned down an appointment to the Naval Academy and spent his freshman year at Notre Dame University while his mother lobbied successfully to get him into West Point.

He graduated 214th in a class of 310 in 1947.

Nixon made him a four-star general. After he left the White House, he became the NATO chief, the supreme allied commander in Europe.

In 1979, he retired from the Army and lived briefly in Devon while he worked for the University of Pennsylvania's Foreign Policy Research Institute. He later served on the institute's board.

During his days in the White House, Gen. Haig's visits to Philadelphia often attracted protesters.

But in 1981, Eagles owner Leonard Tose read that Gen. Haig identified himself as a pro football fan, and that he was torn between rooting for the Eagles or the Washington Redskins. Tose invited Gen. Haig to his superbox when the Eagles played in Washington.