Someone You Should Know: Uncle Phil
Rochester, N.Y. -- Thousands of people in Rochester have an Uncle Phil. For many of them, that Uncle Phil is the same guy: Phil Salamone. For 30 years, he has greeted visitors at The Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial, Frontier Field, CMAC and a variety of summer festivals.
Phil is known for his engaging smile, his distinctive chuckle and his endless supply of hugs.
As one of his co-workers declared, “If you’ve been to Rochester, you know Uncle Phil.”
What many don't know about him is that his perpetual positivity has roots in two of the lowest moments of his life. First, the death of his father. Second, his divorce after 20 years of marriage.
Phil says these two events explain his penchant for hugging everybody, friends and strangers alike.
“I was nine years old when my father died” Phil says. “And I think I started stealing love from strangers. I feel more of a bond (with a hug) – it’s closer than a handshake for me.”
It was his divorce in 1987 that led to his job as an usher. He needed to supplement his full-time work at Case-Hoyt printing to pay child support for his four, young children. But before he started that second job, he cried a lot. He might still be crying if not for the tough love advice of a cousin.
“He said sit in that corner and cry,” Salamone recalls. “Get it out of your system. So I did. At 39 years old, I sat and cried like a baby. And he said I never want to see you cry again, so I built up the ladder. Up, up, up. And now I’m on top, and you can’t knock me off.”
Now retired from Case-Hoyt, he’s not sure he’ll ever quit his role as Rochester’s usher.
“I love when strangers come up and say 'I remember you',” says Salamone, smiling of course. “They remember. I don’t sometimes. I forget who I hug.”
That may be because he hugs almost everybody. Only a few over the years have pushed him away, and they don’t know what they’re missing.
On the night we met Phil, he was showing people off the elevator and to the luxury suites at an Amerks game. The elevator opened and a group of customers cast their eyes on the short man in a red vest, beaming a grin.
“Hi folks, how are you,” he says. “Welcome. I’m Phil. Uncle Phil to you.”
They had just met Phil, and they were about to get a hug.