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William E. Phillips

New York City, Old Saybrook, Essex

Published Jan. 09, 2019

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William E. (“Bill”) Phillips, a long-time resident of New York City, New York, and Old Saybrook and Essex, died Dec. 26 at age 88. Bill was born in Chicago on Jan. 7, 1930, the eldest son of William and Alice Notter Phillips. He is survived by Barbara Smith, his loving wife of 21 years; two sons, Michael Phillips (wife Elizabeth), of Atherton, California, and Thomas Phillips (wife Tracy), of New Canaan, and daughter Sarah Phillips, of New York City; eight grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and twin brothers, John and Frank Phillips.

Bill led a full life as an advertising agency executive, athlete, adventurer, environmentalist, and community leader until his long and valiant battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He accepted this challenge, including his loss of memory, with a smile and attitude that all who survive him will not forget. A graduate of the Harvard School for Boys on Chicago’s South Side, Bill enrolled at Cornell University on a Navy ROTC scholarship, for which he received full tuition and room and board. At Cornell, he was a member of Quill and Dagger, played 150-pound football, and served as advertising manager for the Cornell Daily Sun. After graduation in 1951, he was deployed as an ensign in the Korean conflict, then in the Mediterranean on a 250-ton destroyer, until his discharge as a lieutenant in 1955.

After the Navy, Bill earned his MBA at Northwestern in his home town of Chicago, Illinois. He then took a job at Procter & Gamble and moved his young family to Cincinnati, Ohio. There he started his long career in marketing by launching the Duncan Hines cake mix line. In 1959, Bill moved to New York to become account supervisor on Ogilvy & Mather’s newly won Maxwell House Coffee account from General Foods. He built the account to the agency’s largest, grew Ogilvy’s network in Latin America, and directed the pro bono Big Apple Campaign, which helped New York City recover from difficult times. He became chairman and CEO of Ogilvy until his retirement in 1988. During his years there, Ogilvy evolved from a one-office firm to the world’s fourth largest advertising agency.

Bill was an avid downhill skier, ski mountaineer, bicycler, tennis player, and fly fisherman. He and his kids went on skiing, river rafting, and fishing trips around the world. Even in his later years he was the first one down the hill and caught the most fish. His tennis court in Old Saybrook was a popular meeting place for friendly competition, with a well-known path to the court paved with wine corks. He climbed fourteen mountains more than 10,000 feet on five continents.

Bill’s interest in the outdoors fostered his deep involvement in Outward Bound (OB), where he served as chairman of US Outward Bound, and founding chair of OB’s international and New York City boards. In Eastern Connecticut, he helped lead the fight against the development of the 1,000-acre “Preserve,” the largest coastal forest between New York City and Boston. He served as a trustee of Cornell University and founding chair of Cornell’s advisory board for outdoor education. He was a trustee of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, and of Achilles International in New York City.

Bill’s credo was, “You do what you like; you are what you do.” His full, happy life clearly bore that out! A memorial service will be held at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme on Thursday, Jan. 24, at 11:00 a.m. To share a memory of Bill or send a condolence to his family, please visit Arrangements by the Robinson, Wright & Weymer Funeral Home in Centerbrook.

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