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Neighbor to Neighbor: SE Queens writer recalls life of former radio host

When I woke up on Jan. 9, I switched on the radio and heard that former radio host John A. Gambling had died after a short illness. Like a lot of other families, the Gamblings had come into our homes and hearts most days of every week for many years. Some members of our family probably even heard the first Gambling radio presentation when John A.’s father, John B. Gambling, substituted for the host of an exercise program in 1925 and did such a fine job that he was asked to stay on.

And stay on he did. As my sister and I grew up in southeast Queens, where the show had a large following, we would listen during breakfast to John B.’s canaries and orchestra. We sometimes joined his exercise routines and more often obeyed his instructions to “march around the breakfast table.” It was a fun program — even more so when he put the young John Gambling on the air. We had grown up with John A. and were pleased that one of our “friends” had made the big time.

From time to time we heard that the Gamblings are Quakers (also known as “Friends”). Many of this country’s early settlers were Quakers. These folks are generally opposed to war and violence, except in defense.

Quaker meetings for worship often were marked by long periods of silence. On the air, however, all of the Gamblings, including John R. — now heard on WABC — spoke with ease and intelligence to us and to notables from this and countries around the world. They shared many facets of their lives with us, so much so that we almost felt they were part of our family. The Gamblings always came across as very nice people who were helpful and encouraging to those involved in good causes.

Many years ago I remember attending Manhasset’s Christ Episcopal Church pre-Christmas fair. Some of our family lived in the community so we all became active in that parish’s affairs. That particular day the weather had delayed some of the volunteers.

As soon as I arrived and noticed vacancies at some of the booths, I asked one of the fair’s organizers if I could help. She rolled her eyes and said, “Yes, please. See the booth where our cookbook, ‘Holy Smoke,’ is stacked? John A. Gambling came in to support us as a neighboring parish and when he saw no one manning that booth he offered to sell them for us, and he’s been there well over two hours.”

I hurried over, introduced myself, thanked him profusely for his generous help and offered to relieve him of the task he had undertaken. We shook hands and he said, “I’m doing fine here. It’s great fun meeting and talking to people. And because I love to eat, in between sales I’ve been browsing through these recipes. They sound terrific.”

Talk about gracious. He was, indeed, and he has left his legacy with his son, John R., the rest of his family and with those of us he and the other Gamblings have touched over the years through their work on the radio. We have shared and enjoyed their adventures and trips to places we will never be able to go — all in the safety and security of our homes.

We have laughed and shed more than one tear with them, too. We are glad that John A. must have known how much he was loved and respected by his blood family and the rest of us. At 73, he lived a fuller life than many, but we certainly wish his life could have been extended in good health. Had he lived to learn that President George Bush wants to send more people to the moon and Mars, he probably would have volunteered to be one of the travelers.

The Gamblings always have liked trying things out. They were the first to announce school closings during winter weather, endearing themselves to youngsters everywhere for a lifetime. We will miss John A.’s occasional post-retirement visits with John R. on WABC Radio but know John R. — and maybe his son or sons — will carry on the good spirit and traditions set by John B. and John A.

Whenever I feel I want to gamble, I gamble on the Gamblings and that has made me feel like a winner every time. We thank and send our sympathy to all of them.

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