K Street Mourns Loss of Colleague Bill Phillips
Family and friends are expected to gather at 11 a.m. Friday in Potomac, Md., to pay tribute to longtime lobbyist William “Bill” Phillips, who died in an Alaska plane crash earlier this month.
Phillips, 56, died in the crash along with former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and three others. Four people, including Phillips’ son, William Phillips Jr., survived the Aug. 9 crash. Stevens’ funeral was held Wednesday in Alaska.
Other lobbyists, Capitol Hill aides and Phillips’ colleagues described him as larger than life and said he was a seasoned advocate who always kept Alaska’s best interests at heart.
Jeff MacKinnon, Phillips’ lobbying partner until 2008, said that his friend died in pursuit of what he loved. The plane was en route to a cabin in Alaska for an annual father-and-son fishing trip.
“He was never more at peace than when he was out there fishing with his kids,” MacKinnon said. “It’s just a terrible kind of irony that he was doing something that he really, really loved.”
Phillips is survived by his wife, Janet, and four sons.
Phillips’ friends recall his deep devotion to his family. Three of his sons play football, and several lobbyists said there was rarely a conversation in which Phillips didn’t mention how their teams — Stanford University, the University of Virginia, Indiana University and Georgetown Preparatory School — were doing. A proud father, Phillips regularly took out a detailed spreadsheet that listed each son’s game schedule, where it was being held and which television stations were carrying the games.
“Bill’s mission was to make every single game,” said Karen Knutson, Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) chief of staff. “He clearly was a devoted father and his joy about his family was just infectious.”
The head coaches for Phillips’ sons’ football teams, along with several of their teammates, are expected to be at the funeral service.
Phillips was an entrepreneur at heart. In addition to his lobbying practice, he built a thriving commercial fishing business in Alaska and Maine. He was in the process of expanding it in Virginia when he died.
Most in Washington knew him for his close relationship with Stevens. Phillips, who served as Stevens’ legislative director and chief of staff from 1981 to 1986, was a close confidant of the Alaska Senator for more than three decades. Stevens, 86, was the longest-serving Republican Senator.
Phillips and Stevens’ relationship went far beyond the typical aide and lawmaker, with several K Streeters characterizing Phillips as Stevens’ consigliere.
“You always went to Bill for the history of how things had gone before and how to do things right in the future,” recalled Mitch Rose, a former Stevens chief of staff.
Knutson said, “He was a big advocate for his clients, but he would always make sure that he would give you good, solid advice every single time.”
Phillips and Stevens both shared a passion for wildlife and fishing, friends said. Phillips also stood by Stevens during the late Senator’s corruption trial in 2008. The ethical cloud ultimately led to Stevens’ ouster from office that November. Phillips worked as an intermediary with Stevens’ legal team and had a constant presence in the courtroom.
Over the last two decades, Phillips built up a steady client base, focusing on Congressional procedure and telecommunications issues.
As a partner at Utrecht & Phillips, he worked for clients such as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the Air Transport Association.
NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow described Phillips as “more than a consultant and colleague.”
“He was a trusted confidant and close friend to many of us at NCTA and throughout the cable industry,” McSlarrow said in a statement.
ATA President Jim May called Phillips an “extraordinary, multi-talented friend of the industry whose expertise, wise counsel and impeccable character will be missed.”
Bruce Mehlman of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, who worked with Phillips as an outside consultant to ATA, said Phillips had the unique ability to see the broader implications for his clients.
“He was a highly valued colleague and in an often competitive business, he was someone you really appreciated sharing a client with,” Mehlman said.
But more than his lobbying presence, Phillips’ Capitol Hill and K Street colleagues remember Phillips for living a rich life.
“He really did live life to the fullest,” MacKinnon said. “Fishing and being in Alaska was a big part of it.”