Tommy Ruth, 87, a former prizefighter, politician, and performer, died of heart failure Wednesday, Dec. 22, at St. John Neumann Nursing Home in Northeast Philadelphia.
In 1943, when he was 20, Mr. Ruth won the Diamond Belt championship as an amateur welterweight, representing the former Pen-Mar Gym in South Philadelphia. A year later, he won the light-heavyweight championship and turned professional.
As a pro, Mr. Ruth fought in 74 matches and won 12 by knockout. In 1947 he fought an undefeated Harold Johnson. Johnson, who won the fight in six rounds, later became light-heavyweight champion. The two fighters became great friends, Mr. Ruth's son, Thomas, said.
Mr. Ruth ended his professional career in the early 1950s. In 1991, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame, along with eight other fighters, including former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier.
After his boxing career, Mr. Ruth performed in area night clubs for several years as "The Singing Fighter." He then worked as a warrant officer for the Philadelphia Traffic Court and later for the Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General for five years. For more than a decade, until retiring in the early 1980s, he was a revenue-collection manager for the City of Philadelphia.
Active in Democratic politics as a committeeman, Mr. Ruth was elected leader of the Seventh Ward in Kensington in 1968. "Fighting in the ring or battling in politics is practically on a par," he told the Philadelphia Observer at the time. "The only difference is that a fistman usually carries the scars to his grave but in politics the only thing that hurts is his pride."
Mr. Ruth boasted that he had a winning ward because he expected his committeemen to be active not just during elections but all the time - canvassing for new voters or persuading Republicans to change parties. Among his greatest moments, his son said, were the mayoral victories of Frank Rizzo in 1971 and 1975 and Bill Green in 1979, when the Seventh produced more votes for the candidates than any other ward in the city.
Besides boxing, Mr. Ruth played sandlot ball in his youth and had two tryouts as a pitcher with the Philadelphia Athletics. He hit the heavy punching bag at Hennelley Boys Club in Kensington until his late 40s and taught youngsters the art of self defense, his son said.
He would take carloads of his son's friends to Connie Mack Stadium for baseball games and then to Pat's Steaks. A bargain hunter, he would also take the boys to South Street and taught them how to haggle with shopkeepers. "We would end up with $100 suits for $30," his son said.
At the nursing home where he lived for the last six years, Mr. Ruth entertained the staff with his singing and sense of humor, his son said.
Mr. Ruth's wife of 59 years, Theresa Keane Ruth, died Jan. 1. In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Catherine, and two grandchildren.
A Memorial Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 30, at the chapel at St. John Neumann Nursing Home, 10400 Roosevelt Blvd., Philadelphia 19116. Donations may be made to the home.