Celebrate the rich history of the home where The Philadelphia Orchestra first made its sound famous—the glorious “Grand Old Lady of Locust Street.”
A Monthly Profile of Orchestra Fans and Family
If you’re a regular at Orchestra concerts, you have certainly seen Tom Kerrigan. He’s the friendly guy in the black tuxedo—formal even on Saturday mornings—standing under the Kimmel Center’s glass dome outside the entrances to Verizon Hall, directing traffic around Commonwealth Plaza, addressing ticket issues, making sure everything runs smoothly.
The only person ever to hold the position of head usher at the Kimmel Center, Kerrigan (who also has another full-time job, more on that later …) has not missed a single evening or weekend regular season performance since the Kimmel opened in 2001. It’s an impressive achievement, and one he plans on continuing to uphold “probably ’til I can’t do it anymore,” he laughs.
Kerrigan, along with his family, has had a long relationship with The Philadelphia Orchestra. His father, Charles Kerrigan, who knew the box office manager from their South Philly neighborhood, worked as an usher at the Academy of Music. (“He opened the doors on the Locust Street side.”) Tom started ushering on November 24, 1981. (That makes 33 years this month.) His maternal grandfather and four of his siblings (Tom’s the oldest of 10) have also ushered over the years. (His brother Charles works with him now at the Kimmel and sister Edie is at the Academy.) When the Orchestra moved to its new home a few blocks down Broad Street, Tom applied for the job—and the rest is history.
Kerrigan may not be on a first-name basis with all the patrons, but he knows all the faces—and they are most definitely on a first-name basis with him. “They know me much better than I know all of them,” he says. “Once I was in a restaurant having dinner and this woman kept looking, and she finally came over to the table and said, ‘I just have to thank you because seven years ago we came to see The Nutcracker and you helped my family out and really got us some great seats.’ And I didn’t even remember the situation!
“That’s the kind of thing that I enjoy,” Kerrigan says. “The performances are great … but my real love is the audience that I’ve come to know very well.”
On another occasion, during tours of the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ, a couple came up to Kerrigan and asked if they could take a photo with him. “They said, ‘We brought our kids to the children’s concerts for years and they saw you every time they came in the door,’” Kerrigan recalls, “‘and we just wanted to let them know—they’re grown up now—we just want to send them out a picture telling them that you’re still here.”
As head usher, Kerrigan is responsible for organizing all the other ushers, making sure they know what’s going on, the timing of the pieces, if there’s anything special happening. Work starts about an hour before show time and doesn’t end until the theater is cleared. And he does all this while also working another job. Since 1991, he has worked for Sunoco, first in investor relations, now in HR. How does he do it? “I don’t know!” he laughs. “I take vacation time to do Friday afternoon concerts … I’ve had some great bosses, actually, at both places. They help me to manage.”
“Why” is an easier question to answer: “I really do love it,” he says. Over the years he’s come to know everyone—musicians, performers, audiences. He has friends in the Orchestra and the resident companies. “I want to make all their events go well.”
There have been countless highlights. Kerrigan recalls the time Luciano Pavarotti performed with the Opera Company of Philadelphia in 1982. After a three-hour performance “he would meet and greet with anyone who wished to see him—especially the women—and the line would be around the block. We stayed almost another hour while he kissed everyone who came to see him.”
Meet-and-greet concluded, the great tenor summoned “all the red coats!” for a photo (that still hangs under the stage at the Academy of Music, part of the “wall of fame”). When Pavarotti returned, more than two decades later for a 2005 concert at the Kimmel Center, Kerrigan produced the photo:
“I showed him the picture and he said (imitating Pavarotti’s Italian accent), ‘You were just a baby then!’ And I thought … Yup!”
Regular people (“my real love”) are just as memorable as the stars. Like the one woman—who lived to be 99 years old—who came to see the Orchestra, first at the Academy, then, with her walker, at the Kimmel Center. “She would come in every Friday,” Kerrigan says, “rain or shine, snow, whatever. She lived in Center City somewhere. And she’d say, ‘Give me my kiss.’ I’d give her a kiss, and we’d get her into her seat. She would tell me how excited she was about the concert and as soon as the concert started, she would go sound asleep … and snore! We had to move people away from her. But we couldn’t not let her come to her concerts!
“The sweetest woman you ever wanted to meet,” he concludes. “She passed away right before her 100th birthday.”
One sees a lot in 33 years of dealing with the public. Kerrigan says he’s “blindsided all the time” by some of the encounters. (He’s too much a gentleman to give up any details.) “I still get hit with new experiences,” he says. “Probably a thousand” stories.
One thousand stories … and still counting.