WORKING full time and being a full-time father is challenging work, but Robert Kersey Jr. was up to it.
In fact, he loved nothing more than being a dad; it was his favorite job. He was not only a father to his three sons, but Robert also was a father figure to every member of his family, as well as his friends and neighborhood youths.
Robert Kersey Jr., who rose from being a janitor to buying, rehabilitating and selling properties throughout Philadelphia, died March 18. He was 76.
Robert was the second of three children born to Robert Kersey Sr. and Lavinia Kersey. He was raised in South Philadelphia, and graduated from Bok Vocational High School, where he excelled in football. He was All-Public League his junior and senior years.
Before his three children came along, Robert was a father figure to his little sister, Maria. While working long hours as a janitor at the Franklin Institute, he was able to save enough money to surprise Maria by paying for her tuition at Cheyney University.
That was just the kind of person Robert was - a giver.
One of his favorite lines was, "The only thing you can count on is a paycheck," said his son Robert Kersey III.
While cleaning hallways at the Franklin Institute, Robert would pick up and read The Wall Street Journal, a habit that eventually inspired him to buy properties for rehab and sale around the city.
When Robert became the father of Robert, Troy and Brian, they were the best gifts of all, and he wanted nothing more than to be the best dad possible.
Raising children in a rough neighborhood in South Philadelphia was another challenge, but Robert made sure he showed his sons that there was a world outside, rich with opportunities.
"If you look at our community, there's a fatherly presence missing, but he filled that void for us," his son said.
Robert made sure he and his family spent a week in Atlantic City every summer, and there also was a trip to Disney World.
He wanted to show his sons the value of hard work. He made them work on the properties he was fixing up, and the money they earned went toward their school tuition.
His boys attended St. Charles Borromeo Parochial School and Cardinal Dougherty High School, and he didn't mind the price of tuition. He wanted the best education possible for his children. And it paid off.
Robert III became an aviation maintenance officer; Troy was a wide receiver on Temple University's football team, and Brian graduated from West Chester University. They also became fathers themselves and spread the life lessons to their own children.
"My dad always told us if you make it, take care of it," son Robert said. "It's not about supporting a child, it's about being in a child's life, and my dad did that for everyone."
Robert's final days were spent at the University Home, at Market Street near 39th. Last winter, he helped a fellow resident buy her grandchildren winter coats. He didn't mention it to anyone, he just gave.
"We just found that out, too. He just wanted to give those kids coats, like he couldn't turn off his fatherly instinct even at the retirement home," his son said.
Robert had one final wish: He wanted to go to Las Vegas.
His sons canceled plans with their families to arrange the trip. "I told him that everyone had to cancel plans that were already made," his son said. "He said, 'OK, well I canceled a lot of plans for y'all.' "
Sadly, Robert never got the chance to enjoy what would have been his last father-and-son vacation. He died from septic shock.
Luckily, right before his death, he got to meet his first great-grandchild, Kahil.
Besides his sons and sister Maria, Robert is survived by three grandsons and a great-grandson.