FOOD AND BEER connoisseurs might not have known the name of the roly-poly guy who seemed to be at every festival and brew tour within a wide radius of Philadelphia for many years.
"He was ubiquitous," said Rich Pawlak, longtime food and beer writer. "He was everywhere. From here to Cooperstown and other far-away places, Gary managed to get there, often by public transportation."
Gary L. Bredbenner was simply a fixture wherever beer was served and discussed and written about. And his love of food and beer was contagious. You couldn't help feeling better about life when Gary was around, even if a lot of people didn't know his name.
And so the many people who did know his name were shocked when he died unexpectedly last Tuesday of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 44. He lived in South Philadelphia.
"He was one happy guy," said Don Russell, who writes a beer column for the Daily News under the name Joe Sixpack. "He was part of the local beer scene. He was one guy who made the business so much fun."
Gary had a serious side, of course. He was a highly regarded computer technician for IBM, which sent him all over the world to work on computers. But he loved beer and the ambience surrounding beer, beer drinkers and beer brewers. In fact, he had his own home brewery.
"He made some pretty tasty beers," Pawlak said. Gary also had his own home grill, on which he loved to barbecue.
"He'd call me and say, 'I'm smoking four racks of ribs. I'll bring you some,' " said Pawlak.
"He was the only person to have participated in every one of my annual Golden Age of Beer in Philadelphia tours across 11 years," Pawlak said. "That always amazed me, but he loved them and was always one of the first to sign up every year."
Gary was also a presence on Internet food and beer sites. "He chimed in almost every week on our weekly Friday night beer chat, the 'No Bull Inn' on starchat.net," Pawlak said.
"Gary was always the happy person in the room," said beer writer Lew Bryson. "I'll miss his smile and his jolly eyes. Nice guy, loved beer, good to be with."
Katie Loeb, a popular bartender now with the Oyster House, said, "I always looked forward to having Gary come visit me at wherever I was working at the time. He would make my day with his sense of humor, great stories, and incredible joi de vivre. He was a ray of sunshine."
Despite Gary's being about 5-foot-1 and weighing 250 pounds, Pawlak thought of him as an "elf."
"He just had that elf-like quality about him," he said. "And kids loved him. My 4-year-old twins, Ben and Sophie, loved when we would have dinner with him, or meet him at my favorite watering hole, the Grey Lodge in Mayfair."
"That is where I last saw him a week ago, celebrating Xmas in July, just as you'd expect him to do."
Gary was born in Mahoning Township, Montour County, the son of William C. Bredbenner III and the late Ellen J. Romig. He lived in Riverside in his youth, graduating from Danville High School in 1983. He also attended Penn State before graduating from Temple.
Gary was a big Eagles fan. He would attend training camp at Lehigh every summer and go to as many home games as he could. "He loved the Phillies, too, but he bled Eagles green," Pawlak said.
Gary never married. His father is his only survivor. He was predeceased by a brother, William C. Bredbenner IV and a sister, Polly M. Bredbenner.