It was midsummer 2014, another lost season for the Phillies, but that was the least of anyone's concern in that little house in Sea Isle City.
Jerry Gehman lay dying.
He'd spent most of his 72 years saving lives on that beach in the summer and the rest of the year guiding lives at West Deptford High, a teacher and athletic director. In 1980, he stopped lifeguarding and went to work for the Phils, first as a security guard, later as a bartender, but not in 2014. Colon cancer had ravaged his body. By midsummer, it sent the big man with the big laugh to hospice. Everyone knew he had only a few weeks left.
So, everyone came by: former students, fellow lifeguards, family, expected friends, unexpected friends.
One day in late July, in walked David Montgomery. The Phillies president. The big boss.
Jerry and his wife, Kathy, simply could not believe it.
They knew Montgomery was fighting jaw cancer. It was a fight that, combined with the team's failing fortunes, would contribute to Montgomery's move from active president to a more passive role as chairman.
Still, Montgomery came. To see a bartender.
Montgomery stayed most of the day. He took one final photo with Jerry, both men wan and withered from their disease, both smiling, delighted to spend a few last hours together, talking like kinfolk talk.
"For him to make a trip down for the day to visit him was really, really big for my dad and mom," said Chuck, Jerry's son. "It was beyond anything we expected. He really does care about the people he works with. The Phillies, they really are a big family."
For the last 20 years, David Montgomery has been the head of that family. He has operated behind the scenes with the empathy of a clergyman and the stealth of a thief. He has been found out.
Any man so heavily burdened by the curse of decency will always be found out.
It is the nature of baseball to nurture. It takes a patient patriarch to oversee the process of building a winner again and again. Montgomery is the template. He has, in his 45 years with the Phillies, manufactured a model of inclusion to create the most functional of families.
He considers himself the fortunate one, a lifelong fan lucky to latch on with the team in 1971 in the sales department, lucky to become executive vice president when Bill Giles and his partners bought the team in 1981, blessed to succeed Giles as president in 1997. He operates with no hint of entitlement.
In pedigree, Montgomery is Ivy to the core: a history degree from the University of Pennsylvania, a graduate degree from the Wharton School of Business.
In practice, he's as egalitarian as any Temple graduate.
"He was the executive VP, I think, and I was working as an intern in storage. I wasn't there a week before he comes in, introduces himself, calls me by name and says, 'Call me David,' " said Kurt Funk, now the VP of marketing events. "He knows everybody's first name. Everybody in the building. He's not what you think of when you think of a typical Wharton guy."
Montgomery has been a part of four runs to the World Series, the most recent a win in 2008 and a return in 2009. He was the man who hired outsiders Charlie Manuel and Pat Gillick and got a talented core over the hump. His devotion to the team's ALS initiative has resulted in $16 million to battle Lou Gehrig's disease. And he simply adores his people.
He once scolded an executive for not knowing the name of the new groundskeeper - in Clearwater, Fla., where the Phillies hold spring training.
He knows the longtime ushers at the Phillies' minor-league ballparks.
He's there when you don't even know you need him.
John Weber runs sales and tickets now, but in 1990 he had been a full-time employee for about two years when his mother suddenly died. Mass was said in Ocean City, N.J. Weber, one of about 80 Phillies employees at the time, expected to see a couple of close friends from work. Fifty came.
When Scott Palmer's mother-in-law died suddenly in Chicago a couple of years ago, Palmer and his wife, Kathy, were in their car, drawing close to Pittsburgh, when Palmer's cell phone rang.
It was Montgomery, calling to offer condolences, and an . . . apology?
"I'm just sorry," he said, "that I can't make it out for the funeral."
If many of the stories seem to involve grief, consider that, like all good fathers, Montgomery's finest hours have come in life's most miserable moments. Like all good men, he is best in the bad times. Like all humble men, he shuns the spotlight.
The night the Phillies won the Series in 2008, most in the organization cascaded onto the Citizens Bank Park playing field. Montgomery hid in the dugout, arms folded, smiling.
Last month, when Montgomery received the Ed Snider Lifetime Humanitarian Award at the 112th annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association dinner, he made the two dozen Phillies employees in attendance stand up so he could thank them.
They say you can't go home again. Well, you can if your home is with the Phillies.
In 1981, after a decade with the team, Adele MacDonald left the club to start a family. Twenty years later, she saw Montgomery at a party. He rehired her within a week.
Kelly Yurgin never had to leave. She met with Montgomery in 2000 and, with trepidation, told him she wanted to try to wedge her community outreach job into her life as a new mom. Montgomery loved the idea. Yurgin now has two boys, 16 and 12, works three or four days a week . . . and has increased her workload.
The Phillies recycle employees like soda bottles. After acrimonious splits, Montgomery has rehired Dallas Green, Larry Bowa, and Ed Wade.
In the early 2000s, Tom McCarthy did piecework on Phillies radio but left in 2006 to become the Mets' radio announcer. Two years later, Montgomery called and lured McCarthy back with TV work. When Harry Kalas died in 2009, McCarthy became the voice of the Phillies.
Montgomery might be paternal, but he's no pushover. Usually, a quick conversation works in even the worst of situations.
"I've seen David handle problems with employees that would no doubt have resulted in firing in other places," said Mike Stiles, the team's chief operating officer. "Instead, David has really saved some people. Oh, he's fired people who have deserved it. But if there's a way to salvage somebody's career, David will take that chance."
Stiles is a former U.S. attorney and trial judge. He has seen the worst of the world.
"People who have worked here forever think that's normal treatment," Stiles said. "I've been around. I've been in other businesses. It's not."
Montgomery calls his wards "teammates," and he acts like one. Whether it's building a new ballpark or working in the kitchen, Montgomery is always elbow-deep.
For years, the Phillies hosted winter holiday fairs at Veterans Stadium for season ticketholders.
"David would be back in the concession stands, cooking hotdogs, wrapping hotdogs," said Funk, the marketing VP. "And you know what? He'd be the first to grab the mop when hot chocolate spilled in the concourse."
It's hard to leave a boss who will clean up messes.
Rob Holiday, a North Jersey native, declined offers from the Mets, Yankees, and the American League office and instead joined the Phillies when he graduated from college in 1987. Holiday has since turned down a half-dozen other job offers. He now runs amateur scouting administration.
Michael Harris, the marketing and special- projects director, twice could have left for better money and a flashier title. He has stayed for 23 years, at ease in a workplace that seems more like a home. Montgomery makes a point of sitting with ticket sellers and secretaries at lunchtime. Several executives follow his lead.
"There's never any internal class distinction inside this building," Harris said. "Sometimes that sort of thing transcends everything else in life."
In 1998, Funk was the Phillies' director of events, but he had plenty of offers coming at him. One, he couldn't resist. He's a basketball nut, and when a former Phillies employee recommended him for a job with an NBA team on the West Coast he jumped at the chance. He flew to the West Coast to meet with the president of the team.
It was a dream job, and a promotion, with a larger salary. But five minutes into his interview, Funk realized he kept referring to how Montgomery did things.
"It dawned on me then and there: I'd better keep my career in the hands of David Montgomery," Funk said. "You have five-tool players in baseball, right? He's a five-tool leader."
Where else would Funk find a boss willing to work a mop?
"David doesn't just know everyone's name. He knows everything about every employee," Holiday said. "Your spouse. Your kids. He was at my wedding. He came to my surprise 40th birthday party."
"He's . . . I don't know. Sincere. Loving. It makes you want to run through a wall for him," Holiday said. "Every. Single. Day."
When it came time to bury Jerry Gehman in September, Montgomery was well into his cancer treatments. He had made his trip to the Shore and said goodbye. The Gehmans expected nothing more.
But then, at the viewing in Woodbury, N.J., in walked Mike DiMuzio, the Phillies' facilities director. Then Bill Giles, and John Middleton, another owner. Then Dan Baker, the stadium announcer, and behind him about a dozen more, all there to say farewell to a member of the family.
Finally, in came the leader of the Family, sick and weakened but still driven by decency.
David Montgomery stepped forward and delivered the eulogy.