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John A. McCray Jr. was ever alert

PEOPLE STILL look up at the second-floor window of the rowhouse at Wilton and Race streets to catch John A. McCray Jr. watching the street.

PEOPLE STILL look up at the second-floor window of the rowhouse at Wilton and Race streets to catch John A. McCray Jr. watching the street.

It's purely an unconscious reaction now because most folks in the West Philadelphia neighborhood know that John isn't there anymore.

And he's not sitting in his car at the curb, keeping his customary vigil. John died Saturday at age 77.

"He was one of those people whose very presence helps to keep a neighborhood safe," said Daily News columnist Elmer Smith, a former next-door neighbor.

"He used to sit outside in his car during the day. And, at night, he kept a vigil in the upstairs front window. Very little happened on our block or in the 5200 block of Race Street that he did not hear or see.

"We'd be a safer city if every block had a person like John McCray."

John McCray was a man who rarely missed a meal. He was about 350 pounds on a 5-foot-7 frame.

"He loved to eat," said his sister, Delores "Sissy" McCray. "He liked fried chicken, Chinese food and barbecue, but he would eat anything."

Hoagies and cheesesteaks were also on the menu, she said.

John was a big jazz fan and used to visit the jazz clubs in the city, like Pep's and the Showboat. He loved to dance and didn't hesitate to hit the dance floor at parties and reunions.

He enjoyed getting together with old pals, and was about to meet his brother, Frederick McCray, for their annual visit to the Carousel House in Fairmount Park where former 76ers star Wali Jones runs a program for handicapped kids, when he became ill.

"He was going to get together with a group of old guys who went to school together," his sister said. "They did it every year."

Insisting that he didn't want to go to the hospital, John lay down to rest. He was found dead by his sister that night.

John was born in Philadelphia to John A. McCray Sr. and Bertha McCray. He graduated from Overbrook High School where he ran track. He was no star, but it gave him a lifelong interest in track and field and he attended the Penn Relays every year.

He enjoyed the casinos in Atlantic City, Chester and Delaware, and liked playing cards.

The one serious flaw in John's character was that he was an avid Washington Redskins fan. "He didn't care for the Philadelphia teams," his sister said.

"He was a very pleasant man," she said. "Everybody liked him. But if you got into an argument with him, he was always right."

His marriage to the former Velma Baylor ended in divorce. Besides his sister and brother, he is survived by a stepdaughter, Robyn Baylor.

Services: 11 a.m. Monday at the Ivan Kimble Funeral Home, 1100 N. 63rd St. Friends may call at 10 a.m. *