Gardner A. Phillips
Gardner A. Phillips, “Our Rock,” left this earth peacefully on August 19 with his family by his side and holding his hands in theirs. Gardner was the loving son of the late John and Clara (Westcott) Phillips. He leaves behind his brother and best friend, John L. Phillips of Maine, his children, Michael F. Phillips, Lenora L. Phillips (Lee), Carol A. Marvel, his best fishing buddy, the late John E. Phillips, whose death was a deep scar to his soul. Gardner also leaves seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren that filled a special place in his heart.
Gardner graduated from the Block Island School in 1951 and proudly joined the United States Air Force with the dream of becoming a pilot, but soon learned that his color blindness would extinguish that dream.
While serving his country, Gardner traveled overseas to Korea and Okinawa, Japan as well as to several states in the U.S. In his travels, he quickly realized that the world was larger and crazier than the little island that he called home.
Returning back home in 1955, Gardner began working for the Block Island Power Company where he gained skills as a lineman. He worked with men that he appreciated and had great respect for while enjoying himself at the same time. He was part of the crew that assembled the 300-year anniversary cake, which was a big job. If you have seen the pictures, I am sure you agree.
In 1958, Gardner began training as a lineman with New England Telephone. He trained part-time while continuing with Block Island Power. In 1961, he began working full-time as a lineman with New England Telephone. Toward the end of his career, he worked as an
installation technician, repairing and installing payphones until he retired in 1994.
There are many benefits when your dad is “The Telephone Man.” One big one was having a phone in every room of the house, including the bathroom.
He knew every road, every business, and every place to find a payphone in the state of Rhode Island. He told us to always carry change, in case we ever needed to make a call and if we did not have a pocket, put it in our shoe. He always had a pocket full of change. Now, thinking back, that is probably why.
Having grown up on Block Island, fishing was a passion and boy did he do it well! As kids, there were not many photos or dinner plates where there was not a fish present, and we never got tired of it. I guess you could say that phones and fish were, in a way, comparable.
He taught us all from a very young age how to fish, and we gratefully gained that passion. Gardner’s love for fishing continued throughout his life, even when his physical ability denied him of it, it remained a profound part of who he was. It is definitely safe to say, it was in his blood.
After retiring, he traveled to Maine and at times Canada, to fish with his brother and friends. They would also fish tournaments, many for charity, Special Olympics being one, which he truly enjoyed. He did this mostly for fun, but winning a little cash and a couple of trophies was not too bad either. When he was not fishing, he was attending a grandson’s baseball game, a granddaughter’s dance recital, a family gathering, or his daughter and granddaughter’s barrel-racing competitions, which he enjoyed and did often.
One of his most relaxing afternoons would be in his recliner watching a baseball game, listening to the radio, or reading a wide variety of topics. One read that he most enjoyed was Martha Ball’s articles in The Block Island Times.
Gardner loved the game of baseball from as far back as he remembered. In the Air Force, he played for a team called the Braves when stationed in Okinawa. He also taught his boys the game, and they played it well. Just after our dad passed, our brother Michael told this: “In ‘74, dad taught me to hit, bunt, run, stop a ground ball, catch fly balls, and run and slide into bases. He explained to me in detail how the game was played. He taught me how to play baseball. He signed me up for Little League and I played for the Rotary League in East Greenwich that season and we won the championship that year. Dad had that trophy for years. He was a proud dad. He also taught John to play, and man, that kid could throw a ball!”
He told us about the first time he saw a baseball game on television. When he was a small boy, his father said to him, “Gardner, you and I are going to the Old Town Inn later to watch the Yankees game on television.” He said, after the game, on the walk home, his father said to him, “Gardner, we are getting a television.” He always had great love and respect for creatures big and small. As a boy, his family always had cats and dogs that meant the world to them. With all honesty, there has never been a day in our lives that we have not had our beloved pets living with us. One winter he arrived home after a five-hour drive from Maine in a snowstorm, just to get right back in his car and back up to Maine, to rescue an old cat that was living in a wood pile. He said that he had tried for a while to coax her into
his car without success and he could not stop thinking about her situation. Well, he arrived home the next morning, cat in tow. The ole gal’s name was Mittens, or “Mitty” as he called her, and she lived out her last years a very happy cat. He passed this unconditional love
for animals on to all of us.
Over the years, his journey in life was always a reflection of strength and faith. He had a way of pushing through every obstacle in a calm manner and always finding the positive side of the situation. He was always a grand example to the young and old, always giving his all and beyond. He always did what was right, even when it was the most difficult way. He never took the path of least resistance, he never made us feel as if we were a burden, and you never heard a negative word about another.
We always felt safe in his presence. He never complained, even when ill, never once, as he only expressed gratitude for the care he received.
Many lessons taught, many traditions passed down, many hugs given, many calming words spoken, many awesome memories made, and because of his existence, many kind and grateful hearts remain. Though deeply missed, we are at peace knowing that he is with the ones that he longed to see and together in that beautiful place.
Please join us on October 16, at 11 a.m. at the Island Cemetery in memory of our beloved dad and friend to all, Gardner A. Phillips.