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Former Councilman Albert Countryman Sr. passes peacefully: a true gentleman and patriarch of iconic Palmyra family

As reported in The Palmyra Sun
October 22, 2023

Despite obstacles, Albert Countryman Sr lived productive life

By Albert J. Countryman Jr.

He was a loving father who overcame poverty and stayed active in the community

Albert Countryman Sr. of Palmyra holding his great-granddaughter, Phoebe Countryman,
whose parents are Andrew and Wendy Countryman of Cherry Hill.

Michael Murphy was just 32 when he died of Black Lung disease, the result of working 12 hours a day, six days a week, deep in the anthracite coal mines around Connor’s Patch, an Irish shanty village on a hill overlooking Girardville, Pa.

He is buried in St. Joseph Cemetery – which, like Connor’s patch – is now an overgrown forest. Social Security did not exist in the 1920s, and Michael left behind his wife Mary to raise four children: Margaret, John, Joe and Marie.

The family was able to leave Girardville, a hotbed full of Molly Maguires who fought for miner’s rights against owners like Stephen Girard, when Joe Murphy got a good job in Philadelphia. But he lost it at the onset of the Depression, and soon Mary and her daughter Marie were living in a tiny row house without heat on Jasper Street in the Kensington section of Philadelphia.

Marie married a Merchant Marine and had two children, Edward and my father, Albert Countryman. The sailor left when my father was 2 years old.

Living in abject poverty, the two brothers often subsisted on onion sandwiches and tomato soup made from ketchup and hot water. They dropped out of high school and went to work to pay the bills and help feed their mother and grandmother.

Their lives changed for the better when Edward married Rose and raised 10 children, and Albert married Jean and raised six children in Palmyra. My dad worked during the day and went back to school at night to earn a diploma from Palmyra High and his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University in the 1960s. He went on to earn his master’s from LaSalle University in his mid-50s, and worked as a pastoral counselor into his 80s.

Because of how he grew up, my father was determined to be a good father. Our parents emphasized the importance of education, spirituality, family and the work ethic. They taught us to be kind, respectful, and empathetic to the needs of others.

More importantly, they showed us how by example.

The original proposal for the Palmyra Harbour development in the early 1970s included two high-rise apartment complexes overlooking the Delaware River. My dad, Roy Myers and Jack Casey opposed the idea and ran for seats on borough council. Once elected, the three convinced the Korman Corporation to nix the high-rises.

When Sacred Heart School in Riverton closed, my parents helped form the Tri-Boro Catholic Education Association to provide daily transportation for students attending other area Catholic schools.

Most of all, they showed us love and supported our activities. Dad was a Little League baseball coach, took us to our first Phillies game at Connie Mack Stadium and made sure we had a roof over our heads and enough to eat.

Mom typed school papers that were due the next day, including my dad’s, sometimes late into the night. They attended every First Communion, Confirmation and graduation, and it was quite a scene when mom had to dress all six children for Easter-morning Mass.

Their hearts were broken when my sister, Mary Sibree, died of acute myelogenous leukemia at the tender age of 29, leaving behind two daughters, Megan and Kelly Ann. Yet every week, my dad drove mom to Hamilton Township, where she would stay for two nights and watch her granddaughters while their father, Bill Sibree, went to work.

As I remember Albert J. Countryman Sr., who recently passed peacefully at home at 88, I remember his love for everyone. He was a kind, patient listener who was willing to do anything for those he cared about. And he was a wonderful father.

His grandfather, Michael Murphy, would surely be proud.