Obituary: John McPhee was a legendary high school football coach at Cathedral

McPhee grew up in east Hamilton and was one of three boys born to Aeneas and Catherine McPhee. His father was a machinist at Stelco.

McPhee was a star football player and played for the Western Colts for a year before transferring to McMaster University in 1951 to complete his bachelor of arts degree. He was regarded as the fiercest linebacker on the McMaster Marauders. He also played fullback.

In October 1953 he was admitted to the hospital after a recurring bout of pneumonia. Tests were taken to see if it was tuberculosis, but doctors told the family his football playing days were over.

He took it in stride. “While in hospital I saw a fellow who was completely paralyzed,” McPhee told The Spec at the time. “And that fellow who had nothing to look forward to was happy. It made me feel happy when I thought just how lucky I was.”

Tony Perri, 70, played guard on those Gael winning teams in the late 1960s and has fond memories of coach McPhee.

“We learned a lot from him, not just in football, but in life,” said Perri, a trustee on the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic school board. “The good example he set — how to be a gentleman, how to be a man of faith, how to be respectful. I never remember him yelling.”

He recalled the pep talks before a game were not about battling the other team but were about “being the best person you can be.” He said it also involved a prayer — not only for the Gaels, but for the opponents.

“He was highly regarded, highly respected,” added Perri. “You never heard anyone say a bad word about John McPhee.”

McPhee’s number (30) was retired by Cathedral in 1991 to mark his coaching contributions and retirement. And last year, the board named the artificial turf sports field at Cathedral after McPhee and Gallagher (who died in 2012).

McPhee was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Cathedral by the Gaels Football Alumni in 2008, along with Gallagher.

McPhee is survived by his children Colleen, Shelagh, Maureen, Sean and Kevin, 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Patricia, daughter Patricia and grandson Kyle. His nephew, Dennis McPhee, is a defensive line coach for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

905-526-3351 | @dandundas

905-526-3351 | @dandundas