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Remembering Jim Osborne '56

James J. Osborne Jr., 83, formerly of Erdenheim, the former chief executive officer and co-owner of Williamson Hospitality Services, Army veteran, football star at La Salle College High School and Villanova University, and National Football League field official, died April 17, 2022, of prostate cancer at KeystoneCare Hospice in Wyndmoor.

Jim was an executive at Willow Grove-based Williamson from its creation in 1994 until his retirement in the early 2000s. He specialized in institutional and corporate dining services and was an expert on catering and food preparation for businesses, schools, nursing homes, and other locations.

In charge of the company’s menus, 300-person staff, and the preparation and service of its meals, he also lectured annually to culinary students at Cornell University and won a lifetime achievement award from the Washington-based National Restaurant Association.

He was featured in a 1994 story in The Philadelphia Inquirer about the opening of Williamson Hospitality Services and, when asked how he would describe its mission, said: “Our niche will be quality.”

“He was very social and humility-driven,” said his son, Greg. “He loved talking to people in the kitchen more than the managers. He liked working-class folks.”

One of four brothers who excelled as athletes at La Salle High School and local universities — two at Villanova, one at Temple, and one at La Salle — Mr. Osborne was a star lineman on the La Salle High School football team that beat favored Northeast High, 26-0, in the 1955 Philadelphia city championship game before 20,000 fans at Franklin Field.

He wore No. 40, was named to Catholic League and city all-star football teams in 1955, and that undefeated championship team was inducted into the La Salle High School Hall of Athletics. He went to Villanova on a football scholarship, played from 1957 to 1959, and was offered tryouts, which he declined, with three professional teams — the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and New York Titans — after graduation in 1960.

Mr. Osborne was also a longtime football referee and field official who spent a decade in the 60s and 70s officiating high school and college football games, and another half decade in the 70s and 80s as a side judge and line judge in the NFL before a knee injury forced him to retire.

He told stories of being berated on the field by colorful Oakland Raiders coach John Madden before an NFL game even began and of Widener University star Billy “White Shoes” Johnson promising to wave at him from the end zone after scoring a touchdown — and then doing just that.

He took his sons to high school and college games and, to the dismay of his wife, let them work as ball boys on the chaotic sidelines. He also operated the game clock at Eagles games for years at Veterans Stadium. “Jim never strayed too far away from football,” his family wrote in a tribute.

Born October 29, 1938, Jim grew up in West Oak Lane and met Sally Campbell in 1944 when they were in Saint Athanasius School. They both went to Villanova, married in 1963, and had sons Jim ‘82 and Greg, and daughter Mollie. His wife died in 2020.

Mr. Osborne served two years in the Army in the 1960s and worked for 25 years with several food service companies before teaming up with the Williamson brothers to form Williamson Hospitality Services. “I’ve always had the burning desire to have my own business,” he told The Inquirer in 1994.

“He was very fair and never spoke a bad word about anyone,” said his son, Jim. “He competed with himself, not others.”

Mr. Osborne and his wife moved to Florida about fifteen years ago. He was a family man and a devout Catholic who supported La Salle and Villanova throughout his life. He liked to read, sail, and play tennis and golf. He woke up early nearly every day to exercise, and he and his wife often marked the sunset with a toast and a prayer.

“Discipline was in his DNA,” said his daughter, Mollie. “He had a lot of integrity.”

“Jim was a first-class person in all that he did,” a friend wrote in an online tribute. “He would do anything for his friends, family and even strangers.”

In addition to his children, Mr. Osborne is survived by five grandchildren, three brothers, and other relatives. Services are to be held later. Donations in his name may be made to La Salle College High School, 8605 Cheltenham Avenue, Wyndmoor, PA 19038.

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