A Life: Philip W. Munson, 1924 — 2013; ‘He Was The Guy You Went To When You Needed Something’
Bradford, Vt. — Philip Munson was a dentist in Bradford for nearly five decades, yet he gave the community so many other reasons to smile.
A supporter of youth baseball, basketball and Cub Scouts, Munson pioneered many of the athletic programs and institutions that continue to serve the area’s children.
Munson, who died Jan. 24 at 88 at Cottage Hospital in Woodsville, was an avid sports fan, sandlot player and skier while growing up in the central Massachusetts town of Gardner in the 1920s and 30s.
Munson matriculated to Norwich University before being drafted into the Army and training with an anti-aircraft battalion in Virginia in 1943.
He went on to Cornell University for pre-dental school and then to the University of Nebraska, where he met Lujane Johnson.
The two were married in 1946, two years before Munson graduated.
Having taken summer jobs at Lake Morey Inn in Fairlee while a student, Munson became enamored with the Upper Valley and returned to open a dental practice on Upper Plain in Bradford in 1948.
Munson became intimately involved in community programs and activities, co-founding Bradford Little League Baseball and Babe Ruth Baseball in 1957.
He later began the Bradford Lions Club junior high basketball tournament and Bradford Youth Sports organization, which continues to run athletic programs at Bradford Elementary School. Munson was also instrumental in bringing Cub Scouts to Bradford.
He and Lujane had three sons, Steve, Bob and Mike.
“Whether it was baseball, basketball or anything else, he did all the paper work and figured out all of the insurance and equipment needs,” said Bob Munson, who now runs the dental practice his father started. “He was the guy you went to when you needed something and he had a great way of bringing people together. He got guys like George Huntington and Harry McLam to coach.”
According to friend Larry Coffin, it was Munson who in 1963 encouraged then-26-year-old Mona Garone to coach basketball. Garone went on to become one of the most prolific coaches in Vermont high school basketball history with more than 500 wins and 10 state championships at Bradford Academy and Oxbow from 1970-96.
When the Bradford Admirals captured a Northern Class I boys basketball championship in 1965, Munson helped lure Boston Celtics center Bill Russell to speak at the celebration banquet.
He ended up serving as a last-minute master of ceremonies, nervously shuffling note cards as he sat next to the legendary Russell.
The 6-foot-10-inch center teased Munson when he took the podium.
“I have sat beside some nervous people in my time, but never anyone like this Doc Munson,” Russell quipped, according to Coffin.
Munson wasn’t only active behind the scenes. Always present at games, he was a vocal part of what Bradford coach Dick Conrad dubbed “the center court club” during games at Bradford Academy.
“He’d jab at officials, but then he’d have them over the house after the game,” Bob Munson said. “He always wanted to win, but he also wanted everyone around him to be happy and comfortable.”
Munson was even more active when it came to baseball. Overseeing both Babe Ruth and Little League teams, he’d travel to away games to cheer teams on. He was coaching one summer when his son, Mike, hit a home run for the Green Hornets Little League team at Camp Kingswood in Piermont.
Munson was so excited he joined him for the run around the bases, making sure Mike touched each one.
It was that type of unguarded enthusiasm that helped make Munson so influential.
“I think that if Phil had been interested in polo, the boys might have played polo and Bradford would have had a string of championship teams in that sport as well,” said Coffin.
Yet Munson wasn’t a self-promoter. To this day, his sons don’t know if he ever played varsity high school athletics, and he didn’t speak much about his time in the military. Aside from his stint with the Army during his college years, he served in the Navy during the Korean War in the early 1950s.
“He loved talking, but it was never about himself,” Bob Munson said. “He was a teacher and a leader. When you talked to him it wasn’t ‘I did this,’ or ‘I did that,’ even though he did a lot of great things.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.