Earl Norfleet Phillips Jr. ’62

(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the Annual Alumni Luncheon and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)

Distinguished Service Medal Citation

Earl Norfleet Phillips Jr. ’62

We have excused Phil Phillips.  The University is without him for a time, and international diplomacy is the richer for it.  Phil has “gone South on us,” not to go work on his tan but merely to continue to serve in the global arena, to carry forward his beliefs about the potential for economic development to do good everywhere.

It sometimes seems he has done all one person can do here, anyway.

As he built his own business, he observed what he has called the tremendous influence the University has in the lives of the people of North Carolina.  He also knew from his own experiences that “kids who go to school there always have a friend in the state.”  He began looking for ways to help keep progressive fires burning.  What he couldn’t have known at the time was the pivotal role an individual could play in one of Carolina’s most momentous triumphs.

When Phil was expected to succeed, he excelled, and his lifelong friend Tim Burnett ’62 noticed what was behind that during their student days.  “The first quality is what I call his quiet determination,” Tim says.  “Quiet is just as important a word as determination.  Some people are full of sound yet signify nothing.  Others are quiet but don’t have the determination that Phil has.  I have known through the years that if Phil decides he is going to do something, he stays at it until it’s done.

“The second quality is his ability to deal with multiple tasks simultaneously.  I don’t think everyone can do that successfully, but Phil can.”

“Third, a lot of people are what I call “tree toppers.”  They sail over everything and never get involved in anything.  Phil has the ability to focus on details without becoming bogged down in the minutia.  He loves getting his hands dirty with the details, but he doesn’t let the details detract him from the focal point.”

Phil’s leadership and innovative thinking have touched every corner of our campus.  He was chair of the trustees for two terms.  He served 16 years on the Endowment Board and chaired it for three years.  He sought and won election to the UNC System Board of Governors when it faced the search for Dick Spangler ’54’s successor as president.   He has served on the board of visitors for the Kenan-Flagler Business School and on the board of directors of the Educational Foundation.

Working from a keen interest in international business affairs, he established the Phillips Initiative, a research and faculty exchange between the business school and its new academic and technology partners in Asia.  He made key connections between Asian business people and government and business leaders here.  As he said at the time, “I want my contemporaries here to appreciate the possibilities.”

He is a recipient of Kenan-Flagler’s Global Leadership Award and the University trustees’ coveted William Richardson Davie Award.

His interest in improving education extends far beyond the University.  Phil brought to the chairmanship of North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry a determination to help make community college funding a legislative priority.  His moment to shine for both the community colleges and the universities came when he led the campaign that resulted in the overwhelming passage of the $3.1 billion bond referendum for new buildings and renovations across the state.

His closest associates in the campaign point to Phil as the most important catalyst for the business community’s support of the referendum.  And Phil has given not just of his time and his ideas, but he puts his own resources side-by-side with his beliefs.  In 1992 he established the Earl Phillips Jr. Professorship in International Studies to help attract outstanding undergraduate teachers.  He helped fund the bond campaign with a corporate-sized gift.

As Phil finished graduate school at Harvard, he settled in with an investment firm in New York and had no thoughts of coming back.  His father convinced him that his business opportunity lay right here at home.  Phil discovered the same was true about the chance to serve – and High Point, North Carolina and UNC have benefited invaluably.

President Bush appointed him to his current mission as ambassador to the Caribbean.  We know he is serving there with the vigor and ingenuity that have stamped his life’s work.  And we know that he knows the way home from Barbados.  After all, we’ve only excused him temporarily.