Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

W&L Professor Emeritus Chuck Phillips Dies at 77

Charles F. Phillips Jr., the Robert G. Brown Professor of Economics Emeritus at Washington and Lee University and the longtime mayor of Lexington, died on Wednesday, Oct. 18, in Lexington.  He was 77.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Oct. 27, at 11 a.m., at the Lexington Presbyterian Church, with the Rev. Dr. William Klein officiating. A reception will follow in the church’s Dunlap Auditorium.

Phillips taught at W&L for 44 years, retiring in 2003. He specialized in industrial organization, regulated industries and corporate economics. He focused primarily on governmental regulation of public utilities and was a national expert on the issue, serving as a consultant to numerous regulated businesses and testifying as an expert witness before federal and state regulatory commissions throughout the country.

His book on the subject, “The Regulation of Public Utilities: Theory and Practice,” was the preferred guide to public utilities in the American economy, both as a classroom textbook and as a reference work for utility executives and regulators. It was originally published in 1984; the third edition was released in 1993.

“This is a great loss for the community as well as the University,” said Washington and Lee President Kenneth P. Ruscio. “Not only was Chuck an eminent scholar and a highly regarded teacher, but he was also a tireless public servant. I always marveled at his ability to pursue his scholarly activity and his national consulting work while also serving for 17 years as the mayor of Lexington and holding several other important positions in the community.”

Born on Nov. 5, 1934, in Geneva, N.Y., Phillips received his B.A. in economics from the University of New Hampshire and his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard.

He joined the W&L faculty in 1959, choosing to pursue the same career as his father, who had taught economics before serving for 25 years as president of Bates College, in Maine. As a testament to how quickly Phillips became a widely popular faculty member, students dedicated the 1962 yearbook, the Calyx, to him and his faculty colleague, Sidney M.B. Coulling.

Discussing his decision to teach at the undergraduate level, Phillips once said he made that choice “in large part because of the challenge it offers and also in large part because of the close contact one has with students, seeing them develop over a period of three or four years.”

He was named to the Brown Professorship in 1979. He served on virtually all of the University’s committees and advised numerous student organizations, including the Williams Investment Society and Beta Theta Pi social fraternity.

In 1979, at the height of his consulting with public utilities, Phillips estimated that he traveled an average of 65,000 miles a year. In addition to that work, he was appointed in 1971 to a statewide commission that studied the desirability of legalizing pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in Virginia. A year later, President Richard Nixon appointed him to the Commission on the Review of the National Policy Toward Gambling. In Virginia, he served more than 20 years on the Republican State Central Committee.

Phillips was extremely active in the Lexington community. He served on the Lexington City Council for four years before winning election as mayor in 1971. He served as mayor through 1988 and was responsible for the transformation of the community in many ways, including the revitalization of downtown and an increased emphasis on the richness of Lexington’s history. He was also active in the Maury River Senior Center, United Way of Lexington-Rockbridge County, Lexington Presbyterian Church, Historic Lexington Foundation and Valley Program for Aging Services, among numerous other local organizations.

In a 1979 feature article about Phillips in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the writer suggested that he was undoubtedly the busiest man in Lexington and “must have a twin hiding somewhere to help him keep up with his schedule.” Responded Phillips,  “I never planned my life to be so busy; things have just evolved that way. The pace, I hope, will slow down some day. But I like what I’m doing now.”

Larry Peppers, the Crawford Family Dean of the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics, called Phillips “the rare individual who had the ability to be prolific in all dimensions of his professional and his civic life.”

Added Peppers: “Within the span of a few weeks, I witnessed Chuck testifying before Congress on antitrust policy, working with fraternity members who needed guidance, helping an assistant professor by reviewing a draft of a scholarly manuscript, and assisting a dean to better understand alumni concerns about the University. Chuck’s energy and passion for his family, his colleagues and for the University was amazing to behold. We extend our deepest sympathy to Marjorie and to her children.”

The recipient of several major honors and awards, Phillips was active in regional and national organizations, serving as president on three occasions of Omicron Delta Epsilon, the international economics honor society. For his academic work, he received the J. Rhodes Foster Award for outstanding contributions to the public utility regulatory process.  He received recognition for his community service from the Shenandoah Chapter of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives, which presented him its Philanthropist Award.

Phillips is survived by his wife, Marjorie H. Phillips, of Lexington; one son, Charles “Chip” Phillips, of Richmond; two daughters, Susan Weber, of Union, Maine, and Anne Davey, of Vineyard Haven, Mass.; one sister, Carol Taylor, of Birmingham, Ala.; and seven grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic, P.O. Box 1573, Lexington VA 24450; Maury River Senior Center, 2137 Magnolia Ave., Buena Vista, VA 24416; or the Lexington Presbyterian Church, 120 S. Main St., Lexington, VA 24450.

News Contact:
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
(540) 458-8459

If you know any W&L faculty who would be great profile subjects, tell us about them! Nominate them for a web profile.