Philip Francis “Phil” Sheats Jr., a marketing manager for technology companies in the D.C. and Boston areas since the 1990s and a soccer player who participated in and promoted amateur and LGBT soccer events in the U.S. and abroad, died Feb. 7 at his residence in Boston. He was 43.
A spokesperson for the Boston Medical Examiner’s office said tests related to an autopsy seeking to determine the cause of death were incomplete, but a friend said authorities indicated the death appeared to be from natural causes.
An outpouring of comments on Sheats’ personal Facebook page and a separate Facebook page he created for a South Boston LGBT social group he founded called The New Southie portray him as a talented and admired friend and community organizer. Some of those who submitted comments praised him for using his marketing skills to help others, including several gay and non-gay charitable organizations.
“Whether at work or play, Phil will always be remembered for his smile,” said his longtime friend Kevin McDuffie of D.C.
Sheats was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in the Annapolis, Md., area, where he graduated from Broadneck High School in Annapolis in 1987. He attended the University of Maryland in College Park and later Northeastern University, where he graduated with a degree in marketing and a minor in psychology.
According to information about his work history posted on his LinkedIn page, Sheats began his career in marketing-related positions for computer software and technology companies in the D.C. metropolitan area, including suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia.
He later moved to Boston, where he worked for the high tech firms Legato Systems and EMC. His most recent position was that of senior manager for field marketing programs for the Cambridge, Mass., based firm Pegasystems.
McDuffie said Sheats was an “avid music aficionado” who spent some of his leisure time listening to and assembling his own mix of music, which he transferred to CDs and often gave to friends as gifts.
“CDs from Phil were cherished and collected,” McDuffie said.
But among Sheats’ passions was soccer, according to people who knew him.
“Phil was heavily involved in playing soccer at amateur events around the world, in locations such as London, Buenos Aires and Perth, Australia,” said McDuffie.
Sheats won a medal at the 1994 international Gay Games competition in New York. He later became the soccer marketing and press director for the International Gay and Lesbian Football (soccer) Association.
According to a March 2011 article in the Boston Globe, Sheats became the hub of a large social network in Boston’s gay community after founding The New Southie in 2008. “Southie” is a well-known term in Boston referring to a resident of the working-class, predominantly Irish Catholic neighborhood of South Boston, which in the past hasn’t been known as being friendly to the LGBT community.
Sheats told the Globe he initially created The New Southie as a Facebook group to help him meet other gays in South Boston at the time he moved there. He said he later decided to bring the group “off the Internet and into the real world” by organizing events at neighborhood bars, the Globe reported.
McDuffie said the group quickly mushroomed into a popular venue that brought hundreds of people to South Boston bars and restaurants on nights where business was normally slow. He said Sheats charged an admission fee for some of the events, and used the proceeds to make donations to charitable groups such as the Trevor Project, an LGBT group that works to prevent suicide among LGBT youth.
“The membership eventually grew to over 1,000,” McDuffie said of The New Southie.
Sheats has been credited with playing a key role in breaking down barriers between gays and straights in South Boston through his event organizing.
He was known for his “engaging personality” and sometimes for his “lighthearted trouble-making mischievousness,” McDuffie said. “The side most people know and love about him was his great comedic timing, a master creator of nicknames for his family and friends – always loved but not always flattering. Having a nickname from Phil meant you had made it in his heart and life.”
He is survived by his mother, Mary Sheats of Arnold, Md.; his father, Phil Sheats and stepmother Marianne Sheats of Newport Beach, Calif.; his brother William Sheats of Arnold, Md.; and three sisters, Christine Zoellner of Annapolis, Carole Sheats of West Virginia, and Kathleen Sheats of Arnold; three nephews and many friends.
Friends are invited to a funeral mass scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday, Feb. 18, at St. Andrew by the Bay Catholic Church in Annapolis. A burial is scheduled following the mass at 10:30 a.m. at Lakemont Memorial Gardens cemetery in Davidsonville, Md. A Celebration of Life is scheduled after the burial from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Yellowfins Restaurant at 2840 Solomon’s Island Rd. in Edgewater, Md.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Trevor Project at thetrevorproject.org/MemorialandTribute.