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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dan Phillips (1958-2005)

EAGLE co-owner remembered for professional leadership, personal grace

By Lucy Schultze, Staff Writer

The Oxford EAGLE, Dec. 15, 2005

Those who knew Dan Phillips through his work in the journalism industry or his service on a host of organizational boards speak of his  professional demeanor, his leadership skills and his keen business mind.

But it’s just a prelude to what they really want to say.

“I will remember Dan first and foremost as a loving husband and father, a devoted son, a loyal brother and a true blue friend,” longtime friend and Clarion-Ledger Perspective Editor Sid Salter of Forest said in an e-mailed tribute.

Phillips, assistant publisher at The Oxford EAGLE since 1983, died Monday morning at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital after complications following a kidney transplant. He was 47.

As news of his death sunk in, Salter recalled how just this past spring Phillips had served as a pallbearer for his late wife, Paula Salter, despite being in great physical pain himself.

“That kind of selfless act of kindness defined Danny,” Salter said. “He was just a very decent, honorable man and I will greatly miss him.”

Sudden turn

In the Oxford community, Phillips’ death comes after months of prayer-list petitions in local churches for both him and his kidney donor — younger brother Tim Phillips, also an assistant publisher at the EAGLE.

Doctors had initially been pleased with the progress both men were making in the days after the Nov. 22 transplant operation. Before his health suffered a sudden decline late last week, the Phillips family was looking forward to having him home before Christmas, and his coworkers expected him to return in full strength by the new year.

“Dan faced his illness with great courage and his treatments with his typical good spirits,” said Rita Vasilyev, his fellow assistant publisher and EAGLE co-owner.

“The heart of The Oxford EAGLE is broken along with that of Dan’s family and many friends. He left us way too soon. We will miss him in our lives and pray God’s strength on us all.”

Barry Burleson, a family friend and publisher of The South Reporter in Holly Springs, said he would cherish the last hope-filled visit he and his wife had with Dan and Susan Phillips in the Birmingham apartment where he was staying to be near his doctors.

“More than anything, he was just such a genuine person,” said Burleson, who served with Phillips in leadership with the Mississippi Press Association.

“What you saw is what he was, and he was simply kind to everybody.”

National service

Outside of his hometown, Phillips was known across the country as a leader in the newspaper industry for his service with the National Newspaper Association.

He served as president of the nation’s largest newspaper organization in 1999-2000 as the first Mississippian to hold that post in 50 years. After rotating out of leadership, in 2004-05 he became the first past president appointed to a new one-year at-large board position.

Mike Buffington, editor of The Jackson Herald in Jefferson, Ga., said that as NNA president he asked Phillips to serve that extra term because he relied upon his experience and wisdom.

“He was a good, level-headed leader of NNA and was able to keep everyone focused on the core issues,” Buffington said.

“He had a lot of hot issues fall on his plate while he was an NNA officer and he dealt with those with a lot of good common sense. He was a steady hand on the rudder during a time the organization needed such leadership.”

Still, it wasn’t that kind of memory that came quickest to Buffington’s mind as he soaked in the news of his friend’s death Monday. Rather, it was a particular NNA function at which he and his wife were supposed to sit at the head table — and didn’t know what to do with their young son during the meal and program.

Phillips stepped in to offer the boy a seat with his own family.

“During the evening, I watched as Dan engaged my son in a long conversation, the subject of which I’m still not sure about — maybe it was duck hunting,” Buffington said.

“Dan was as comfortable conversing with an 8-year-old boy as he was meeting with the movers-and-shakers he had to deal with in Washington as NNA president. I still smile at that memory.”

Family first

Despite his business pursuits and his involvement in state and national organizations, it was his commitment to his family and to the Oxford community that stands out in the minds of many local friends.

“He loved this community,” said the Rev. Warren Black of Oxford-University United Methodist Church. “He thrived here and he gave back in so many ways.”

Local banker Kin Kinney, who grew up in Oxford with Phillips and his future wife, said he has admired the couple’s relationship for many years.

“I don’t remember when they didn’t date,” he said. “They just always seemed to be the perfect couple.”

Over the years, Kinney said, he also admired the working relationship Phillips had with his brother and with his father, EAGLE Publisher Jesse Phillips. He also considered Phillips’ involvement with his two daughters, Margaret Goodwyn and Mary August, a model worthy of imitation.

“He didn’t lose sight of what was important for them, and no matter how busy he was or what he had on his plate, his church and family came first,” Kinney said.

“He just saw the big picture in everything he did.”

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