Robert A. Matthews Jr., 86, a former football coach at what is now SS. Neumann Goretti High School in South Philadelphia and a lacrosse and wrestling coach at the University of Pennsylvania, died of heart failure Sunday, May 6 at his home in Springfield, Delaware County.
Mr. Matthews' daughter, Barbara Damon, said in an interview that her father in 2004 was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame for his coaching in both high school and college. In 2002, she said, the Seventh District of the Veterans of Foreign Wars named him its Man of the Year.
Born in Holden, Mass., Mr. Matthews graduated from Morristown High School in North Jersey in 1942 and studied at the University of Pennsylvania before enrolling in a military V-12 program at Northwestern University, which resulted in his commission as a Navy officer in 1944.
Mr. Matthews commanded a landing craft in the South Pacific and in the Aleutian Islands, his daughter said, and from 1946 to 1975 was an officer in the Navy Reserve.
After World War II, he returned to Penn and graduated with a bachelor's in physical education in 1948. He was a defensive lineman on the football team with future Eagles star Chuck Bednarik. Mr. Matthews attended graduate classes in education at Penn.
His daughter said that Mr. Matthews taught math at what is now Neumann Goretti from the mid- to late 1950s while helping to coach its football team and during that time returned to Penn to coach varsity lacrosse and freshman wrestling.
After his teaching career, Mr. Matthews worked as a contract administrator, first at Radio Corp. of America in Camden from 1959 to 1988, then at Boeing Vertol until he retired in 1995. Briefly thereafter, he taught business courses at Delaware County Community College.
A member of the Gen. Smedley Butler Marine Corps League, in which he was a commandant, Mr. Matthews earned the league's Distinguished Service Award and its Distinguished Citizen Award.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars also gave him its Americanism Award. "He would knock on people's doors if their flags were torn and tattered, the flags outside of people's homes," his daughter said, and would offer to pay for replacements.
Besides his daughter, Mr. Matthews is survived by sons Robert III, Michael, and Mark; a sister; 11 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. His wife, Sarah, died in 1995.
A visitation was set from 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 12, at Holy Cross Church, 651 E. Springfield Rd., before a 10:30 a.m. Funeral Mass there, with burial in SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple Township.