With the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade behind us, and St. Patrick’s Day just a few days ahead, we’re still in the thick of our annual commemoration of Irish heritage. No one loved this time of year more than Paul J. Phillips, Jr., longtime parade board member, 2006 inductee into the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame, Hibernian, and 1995 Philadelphia grand marshal.
Paul Phillips died on February 26. He was 89. With the death of Philip E. “Knute” Bonner, another longtime parade official, on February 15, the Philadelphia Irish community has lost two giants.
We asked those who knew Paul to share their remembrances.
Sister James Ann Feerick, IHM, 2011 Grand Marshal
“I met Paul Phillips in 1971, when my dancers participated in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. They performed with his group in the parade. In 1985, I met him again during my first year as judge for the parade, and he was a wonderful support to me. I remember how kind he was to me, and he made sure I had everything I needed. Ever since then, we have been very close, meeting at many Irish socials and church events.
“He was a true gentleman in every way, and he always put others first. His faith, family and Irish heritage were the driving forces that made him a role model for future generations. I will miss him, but his memory will live on for future years. God bless him.”
Kathy McGee Burns, Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association board member and former president
“Paul Phillips, Jr. was always there. Turn around at an event, and you knew that he would be still there, like a reassuring rock—a Gibraltar or an Everest, a Mount Rushmore. He made the Observance family whole.
“He lived life to the fullest, active in so many groups. I found out that he was a sailor, flying aboard the slow, lumbering PBY-5 Catalina, which saved many lives.
“He will be with us, as a protective spirit. We will see Paul again one day, before God.”
Karen Boyce McCollum, performer and parade commentator
“I had the pleasure of getting to know Paul through our mutual involvement in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Paul was a longtime devoted member of the board and organization, and I have participated in the parade since I was a child, performed at many of the parade association’s parties, events, and Masses through the years. This was our connection. Paul knew my parents for years—they both spoke so highly of him. Paul was special. He was someone who was always such a pleasure to meet and speak to at the various events and on parade day, of course. He was a friendly and kind gentleman with a sweet, unassuming smile and way.
“Paul was a treasure. He was dedicated to his family, his church, and to the Irish community. He was a hard worker and contributed for the right reasons, and not for reward or recognition. As a matter of fact, his son Chris said that Paul was very happy to be grand marshal of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s parade, but he questioned whether he was deserving of the honor in comparison to some of the others who possessed more formal credentials than he felt he had. Truthfully, I think that a man like Paul—a gentleman, a community man, a family man, a faithful man, and a hard-working, happy man—is THE most deserving type of person for that honor.
“To sing at Paul’s funeral was an honor for me. Chris told me that he and his dad had taken two memorable and very special trips to Knock Shrine in County Mayo. I was honored to sing ‘Our Lady of Knock’ for Paul, as we celebrated his life. One of his family members told me that that hymn ‘Our Lady of Knock,’ along with the angels, guided Paul to his final resting place. Those words gave me such a beautiful vision. I will miss Paul and I believe his example will be continued. His dedication and passion for our community, even as he grew weaker, was inspiring to me, and his devotion to his family was certainly passed on to his son Chris. Chris’ devotion and love for his dad until his very last day was beautiful to witness.
“Rest in peace, Paul. You made a difference and set an example for so many in our Irish community, which is the most important credential there is.”
Patrick Mulhern, president, Josep E. Montgomery Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 65
“I first met Paul in 1998, when I became a member of Division 65. I was one of the youngest brothers in the division at that time, but Paul didn’t make that distinction. He treated me as an equal, and through subsequent years of observation I realized that this was one of his unique traits.
“Paul always seemed to operate on an even keel, never overreacting to any situation. He was a doer and involved in so many organizations.
“Paul’s love for his faith, his country, his family and his heritage made him a unanimous selection for our 2008 Fleadh an Earraigh Division Award.
“Paul truly personified the motto of the Ancient Order of Hibernians of ‘Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity.’ As a younger president of the Joseph E. Montgomery AOH Division 65, I cherished his sound counsel.
“Paul was the consummate gentleman and will be missed by all.”
Michael Bradley, director of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade
“Paul was the backbone and moral conscience of our Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade board for over 50 years, and he was the treasurer for 40 years. If you look up the word ‘gentleman’ in the dictionary, you will see a photo of Paul. He was very proud of his Bishop Neumann High School Class of 1941 roots and the Grays Ferry section of South Philly. Paul was on more boards, and knew more priests and nuns than anyone I have ever known. He was kind to everyone and always had good advice when you needed it. We are all better people for having known Paul.”