Meet Tom Garvey: The man who secretly lived inside The Vet

Tom Garvey
Tom Garvey. Photo credit Tom Garvey

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Tom Garvey remembers a Phillies doubleheader in June 1980 — the season the Phillies went all the way. According to his memory, this twin bill was running long and late, fighting bad weather.

He was there — at one point, taking in the games wearing a bathrobe and flip-flops while drinking a cup of coffee.

For the record, this wasn’t a special promotion the Phillies ran to come to the game in your nightgown.

Instead, Garvey woke up in the middle of the night and took a step outside of his “apartment” beyond a rail that looked down on the astroturf field at Veterans Stadium.

“What amazed me was people weren’t saying, ‘What the hell are you doing here in a bathrobe,’” Garvey recalled. “They wanted to know where I got a hot cup of coffee.”

It wasn’t the concessions. They were closed. It was his bedroom.

The Vet was a big cookie-cutter concrete behemoth of a stadium. Citizens Bank Park is miniature to it. The Linc is built completely differently. While those venues are better for the game experience, The Vet was a place you could get lost in — and not feel lost at all. That’s because it was home.

Well, back in the day when sporting event security was barely a fraction of today’s procedures, Garvey — now 80, living in Ambler — literally called it home.

“I had the opportunity to grow up as an adult living in the stadium where the Eagles and the Phillies were playing all their home games,” said Garvey — who documented his true life story in his 2020 memoir, “The Secret Apartment.”

He says from October 1979 through the end of 1981, he turned a storage room under the 300 level at The Vet into a bachelor pad — never paying rent or utilities. And neither the city, Eagles, or Phillies knew about it.

So, how did this happen? The answer is a combination of a family connection, good friends and Pope John Paul II.

Tom Garvey.
Tom Garvey. Photo credit Tom Garvey

After serving in Vietnam, Garvey returned home and started running the parking lots at the South Philadelphia Sports Complex through the Nilon Brothers, which was run by his uncles. That gave him access to The Vet and, more specifically, Gate D. This job was also an opportunity to get to know some of the Eagles.

As a favor to backup tight end Richard Osbourne, Garvey stored some of Osbourne’s furniture at The Vet because the player wasn’t sure he was going to make the team in 1979. He didn’t want himself or the furniture to get stuck in the Delaware Valley if he was not playing for the Eagles. His hunch was correct. The Eagles let him go before the 1979 season. Osbourne’s message to Garvey was to burn the furniture on the 50.

Instead, Garvey left the furniture in the storage space.

Fast forward to early October, Pope John Paul II is in town, and the lots at the Sports Complex were used for the papal visit. Garvey recruited a crew to work the lots, and that was followed by a sleepover inside the stadium. One of the people with Garvey was a guy named Michael McNally — who you may recognize from the Electric Factory, which is now Franklin Music Hall. McNally saw the storage space and suggested to Garvey that if he organized everything, it would be a sweet apartment.

“I hadn’t even thought of it,” Garvey said. “So I rearranged everything, moved in a refrigerator, everything I needed to sustain myself, and set up one hell of an apartment.”

There was no television but he did have a radio and showered in a locker room for workers at Veterans Stadium.

He would hang out with Eagles in the apartment, including former defensive back Bill Bradley, who was a few years removed from playing with the Eagles but still worked out at The Vet after his playing days. Garvey told Bradley that he had to see the secret apartment.

“What we did was we cleared all of the boxes stacked up … but all you had to do was move one or two and it opens up to a really nice apartment underneath,” Bradley said.

Both Garvey and Bradley said they had total run of The Vet. When fans weren’t there, the place was empty and Garvey would be rollerskating around the iconic Vet ramps at every level  —- sometimes in the middle of the night.

Garvey loved being in a packed building with roaring fans for a game. Notable games during his time living at The Vet included the 1980 World Series and the Eagles NFC Championship win over the Cowboys when Wilbert Montgomery took the second play from scrimmage to the house. He said he would sneak in 80 to 100 people for those World Series games. Those who knew Garvey lived in the stadium never dimed him out, which he feels honored about.

At the same time, Garvey enjoyed the juxtaposition of going from a jam-packed building to being the only cat in the house — and that doesn’t include any furry creature that might’ve been crawling through The Vet.

His parking gig concluded in 1981 when the contract ended, forcing Garvey to move out. He lived briefly with Bradley in Texas, and then came back and met his wife Peggy in Wildwood. He said living in The Vet prepared him for that. She is the woman of his dreams and they’ve been together for 40 years.

“She’s been the best half of my life,” said Garvey. Being with her has given him five stepkids and two step-grandkids.

Decades later, in addition to writing about his time at The Vet, he has written a book about Vietnam and is working on another one about his beloved wife. He loves to write.

And just for the record, even though the big secret has been out for almost three years to people beyond his inner circle, Garvey confirmed neither the city, Phillies nor Eagles ever asked for rent.

“Tom Garvey is one of the neatest people in the whole world,” said Bradley, “and he’ll give you the shift off his back and he’s a great friend and he’ll be a friend ‘til we go into an afterlife of some sort.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Tom Garvey