Edwin Allen Phillips

Botanist, professor, avid sailor

Edwin Allen Phillips, emeritus professor of botany at Pomona College, died peacefully on October 28, 2013 at the age of 98.

Dr. Phillips was born on March 18, 1915 in Lowell, Florida, the first child of William H. and Fanny Goodman Phillips. He grew up in Auburn, New York, where his love of botany began when he became a leader at the YMCA camp on Owasco Lake during his high school and college years.

Dr. Phillips attended Colgate University, majoring in botany with a minor in education. He graduated from Colgate in 1937, with honors, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. After graduating, he taught for two years at St. Johnsville High School in New York. He received his master’s degree in 1940 from the University of Michigan, and was elected to Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

His doctoral studies at the University of Michigan were interrupted when he applied to the Navy after receiving his draft notice in the spring of 1941. In 1948, Dr. Phillips received his PhD from the University of Michigan with honors, Phi Sigma Society.

In the fall of 1941, Dr. Phillips went to the Northwestern Navy Reserve Officer Training School in Chicago, and he became an ensign on January 16, 1942, which was also the day he married Margaret Ellen Knight. He and his future wife met on Thanksgiving 1941 when her sister’s date brought a friend along for the evening. They were married for 66 years before Mrs. Phillips died in 2008.

Dr. Phillips was an officer in the Naval Reserve, active 1941-1946.  He served on two destroyers during WWII in various war theaters: South Atlantic Convoy Duty, North Atlantic Convoy Duty, North African Invasion, Sicilian Invasion, New Guinea Campaign, Okinawa Invasion, Philippines and the Inland Sea, Japan. He received six battle area ribbons with battle stars and, for Okinawa, a Commendation Ribbon and Medal. Dr. Phillips served in the Navy Reserve from 1946 until 1975 when he retired as a Commander.

After WWII, Dr. Phillips became an instructor of botany at Colgate University. In 1948, Dr. and Mrs. Phillips moved to Claremont, California after he was offered a teaching position at Pomona College. Dr. Phillips received the Wig Distinguished Professor Award at Pomona College in 1966. He was chair of the department of botany from 1973 to 1977. He retired as the Henry Kirke White Bent Professor of Botany in 1980. Dr. Phillips also taught at the University of Michigan Biological Station during the summers of 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1970 and 1971. 

Dr. Phillips was the author of numerous journal articles and the author and co-author of various books on ecology and biological science, including his books Methods of Vegetation Study (1959), Field Ecology (1964) and Basic Ideas in Biology (1970). He was on the editorial board of Vegetatio, the International Journal of Plant Sociology from 1955 to 1974, and on the advisory committee of the California San Dimas Experimental Forest, 1957-1967. Dr. Phillips was a member of numerous societies including the American Institute of Biological Sciences, California Native Plant Society, American Brylogical Society and Les Voyageurs, and was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Locally, he was a member of The Rembrandt Club of Pomona College, The University Club of Claremont and the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. 

During sabbaticals from Pomona College, Dr. and Mrs. Phillips traveled extensively. In 1954-1955, Dr. Phillips attended the International Botanical Congress in Paris. He took 10 botany students from Pomona College to this congress and on field trips through the French and Swiss Alps. He continued his research in Geneva, Switzerland and at University College of North Wales in Bangor, Wales. In 1961-1962, Dr. Phillips received a National Science Foundation grant to St. John’s College, Oxford. In 1968-1969, he did research at the University of Hawaii and at Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan.

In 1972, Dr. and Mrs. Phillips traveled to Kenya, where he did research in the Kenya National Parks and in Tanzania as well as in the game parks in South Africa. In the spring of 1976, he did ecological field research in Sri Lanka, and then he and Mrs. Phillips traveled to India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey and Greece. Dr. and Mrs. Phillips traveled to Leningrad in 1975, where Dr. Phillips attended the International Botanical Congress. They also spent two months in China in 1984, where Dr. Phillips was a guest lecturer at Nanjing University.

Dr. Phillips loved teaching and mentoring his students, even long after he retired. For a number of years including this year, a group of former colleagues and students from various classes have gathered for three to four days each spring for the “Pomona College Botany Bash.” These gatherings have taken place in Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Pt. Reyes and Santa Barbara, to name a few. Camping, hiking, botanizing and singing around the campfire have all been important features of these gatherings. Dr. Phillips enjoyed these trips thoroughly.

Dr. Phillips was an avid sailor. He loved to sail solo on his Sunfish and with his family and friends on the E-Scow he and his wife kept at their summer home in Michigan. He and his wife also enjoyed many wonderful sails with family and friends in Coronado Bay on their Cal25. He loved the outdoors and enjoyed teaching botany to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.        

Dr. Phillips is survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Ellen and Dale Litney, and his daughter Nancy Phillips, all of Claremont; by his grandchildren, Diana Hutzell and her husband Steve  of Claremont, E Dale Litney of Schaumburg, Illinois and Phillip Naslund of Costa Mesa; and by four great-grandchildren, Alexandra Hutzell, Ryan Hutzell, Payton Litney and     Sydney Litney.



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