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Eldridge R. Coleman, 72, city lifeguard and mentor.

He taught thousands of youngsters how to swim.

IT SEEMED as if Eldridge Coleman were always doing something to improve somebody's life.

Whether as a lifeguard at city pools, where he taught many a struggling kid how to swim, or mentoring high school students for a Philadelphia Gas Works outreach program, or guiding needy youngsters to fulfilling lives with a social services organization, Eldridge was always there to help.

Even while peddling encyclopedias door-to-door, fate seemed to conspire to make him available for unexpected duty. One door was answered by a woman with a pail who urgently told him to boil water, that the woman of the house was in labor and a midwife was on the way.

Always happy to help out, Eldridge nevertheless, on that note, brought his encyclopedia sales career to a halt.

Eldridge Richard Coleman, who had a 20-year career with the city Recreation Commission, a public-relations specialist with PGW's Community Based Outreach Program, a human-resource specialist with the Resources for Human Development, and a loving family man, died Nov. 22 of cancer. He was 72 and lived in South Philadelphia.

While attending West Philadelphia High School, Eldy, as he was called by family and friends, learned to swim at the Christian Street YMCA and became so good that he won a swimming scholarship to Hampton University in Virginia.

There he lettered in freestyle, butterfly and breast stroke.

Between semesters and on summer breaks, Eldy couldn't sit still. He took jobs as a lifeguard at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center, as a soda jerk in Dubin's Drug Store at 15th and Catharine streets, and as a salesman and stock person at Cantor's Hat Shop on South Street.

"These jobs were indeed vital because Eldy had to maintain his 'clean image,' " said his sister, Eunice. "He loved clothes and hats. Sometimes it was thought by his family when he worked at Cantor's that he got paid in hats."

Eldy was born in Philadelphia to Patrick and Esther Coleman. As a youngster, Eldy was always out every day after school, playing with his pals into the twilight, long past the time he should have been home.

"We never had to go looking for him because our father was a human whistle that could be heard for blocks," Eunice said. And with that summons, Eldy would hurry home.

It was while at Hampton that Eldy supplemented his income by selling encyclopedias until the incident of the pregnant lady intervened.

After completing his studies at Hampton, where he majored in physical education, Eldy went with the city Recreation Department as a lifeguard. He became head lifeguard at the Marian Anderson Rec Center.

"During his 20-year career, Eldy taught thousands of children how to swim all over the city," his sister said. "He ended his career as recreation leader at the Maylon Recreation Center."

After his service with the Philadelphia Gas Works outreach program, he mentored young people with special needs for Resources for Human Development, guiding them to training and eventual employment.

He met his companion, Cynthia Sears, and became stepfather to her son, Brian, and later Pop-Pop to Brian's daughter, Briyah.

"He sincerely loved his family," his sister said.

Eldy also is survived by a brother, Christopher.

Services: Were Nov. 29. Burial was at West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd.