Talal “Tom” El Baz, 66, of the Far Northeast, who for years delighted customers with his bright red Phillies water ice truck at Pleasant Hill Park, Pelbano Recreation Center and many other places, died June 24 due to a severe asthma attack.
Memories and condolences flowed in after news of El Baz’s death reached Facebook. The support was overwhelming, his wife, Gerry, said.
“People knew him and loved him,” she said. “As soon as they’d see that red truck, that was it. It was mostly the kids that would go nuts over seeing him.”
El Baz painted his truck, a 1983 military-style Jeep, red in the run-up to the 2008 World Series, and he decorated it with Phillies decals and player posters. That’s when his popularity rose, Gerry said.
“It just took off, but I think it’s mainly because of his personality,” she said. “Very nice personality. Always joking and friendly with people.”
Youth sports coaches began calling El Baz and asking him to come with his Jeep to their practices and games.
Waseem, 30, El Baz’s son, said his father was a huge Phillies and Eagles fan. He knew the players, coaches and history, and Gerry said he would wear almost exclusively team gear.
“He’s one of these people when he watches a game, you’ve got to be careful being around him,” Waseem said. “Even when he was very sick, at the hospital they had to take the TV away, no radios for him (either), because he gets really mad when something goes wrong with the team.”
El Baz was born in Jordan and moved to the United States about 30 years ago. Over the past two years, he has been in and out of the hospital with various issues, including COPD, asthma and osteoporosis.
Both of his sons live in Jordan but in recent years have been making an effort to come to the United States to care for their ailing father. El Baz, a U.S. citizen, would make calls from his hospital bed, sometimes while in intensive care, to try to help their case, Waseem said.
However, neither Waseem nor his brother, Osama, has approval yet to live in the United States.
The constant medical care drained El Baz’s finances, and the family may start a fundraiser for Gerry or sell the truck to help cover costs, Waseem said.
For nearly 20 years, El Baz and Gerry lived in Bustleton. In January, they moved to an apartment near Grant Avenue and Academy Road.
El Baz took on the name “Tom” after meeting his wife, which was not long after he immigrated to the country, as a reference to the classic cartoon “Tom and Jerry.”
“He always made a joke that it was Tom and Gerry,” Gerry said. “He said it took me a long time to find my Gerry. Anybody he’d start to talk to and I was there, that usually got into the conversation.” ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at email@example.com.