Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Richard Henry Phillips, son of Joseph Henry and Clara Fiege Phillips, was born on March 9, 1890, in a house built by his grandfather on Congress Street in Hartford. He was graduated from Hartford Public High School in 1908, Yale College in 1912 and Columbia Law School in 1914. He was admitted to the Bar in that year. During the difficulties with Mexico just preceding the First World War, he served in Troop B, Connecticut Cavalry, on the Mexican Border and continued his military service overseas in the American Expeditionary Forces during the First World War, where he saw active service at the front. After an honorable discharge as a second lieutenant in the 301st Field Artillery at the end of the war, he returned to Hartford. He started to practice law with the firm of Hewes, Phillips and Lindsey, where he continued in active practice until June, 1929, when he was appointed Reporter of Judicial Decisions of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, succeeding John M. Comley. The Chief Justice at that time was George W. Wheeler of Bridgeport, and his associates were William M. Maltbie, Frank D. Haines, George E. Hinman, and John W. Banks.
To the exacting work of the Reporter of Judicial Decisions, Judge Phillips gave his wholehearted devotion. He brought to the task a brilliant legal mind and an interest and energy that were indefatigable. He was a worthy successor to such able predecessors in that important office as John Hooker and James P. Andrews. We older members of the Bar remember struggling with Baldwin's Digest and Andrews and Fowler's Index-Digest in our research of Connecticut cases. Judge Phillips devoted his keen mind and great capacity for hard work to the creation of a new digest for Connecticut, the Connecticut Digest, first published in 1945. This Digest has become an invaluable tool to the Connecticut Bench and Bar in their research of Connecticut case law. It is the general consensus of the Bar that this Digest is better in every respect that the digests of cases of other state courts. Judge Phillips devoted long hours in the office and at home to the careful and thorough pursuit of this task, at the same time compiling excellent headnotes for the decisions of the Connecticut Supreme Court as they were published in the Connecticut Reports. Moreover, he was secretary of the Connecticut Judicial Council for twenty-five years.
Despite the burdensome work which he undertook as Reporter of Judicial Decisions, that task did not engage all of his energies and abilities. He wrote and had published several short stories and self-illustrated articles on gardening, fishing and other topics which appeared in national magazines. He was a zealous gardener and as soon as the frost was out of the ground, one could find him with his hands in the earth, which he loved and understood. His artistic talents found an outlet in piano playing and painting. One of his paintings was exhibited in the Avery Memorial of the Wadsworth Atheneum. He was a gourmet cook, to the delight of his friends.
On October 24, 1925, he married Marion Wyper Stoughton, a widow whose two children, Jean and Betty, he loved and considered as his own. A daughter, Marion, and a son, Richard, were born of this marriage. Mrs. Phillips, a woman of warm personality with a rich sense of humor, had varied interests and multiple social, charitable and intellectual pursuits which paralleled those of her husband. Her knowledge and love of gardening, golf, travel and music provided in Judge Phillips' life the perfect complement which created a truly happy marriage. Judge Phillips loved to travel and did so extensively in Europe and this country, in Canada, Alaska and Hawaii. Judge Phillips skied in Switzerland, fished in Ireland, hunted in this country, swam, played golf, bowled, skated, curled, and put into play constantly the rich resources of his nature. He and Mrs. Phillips were devoted, loving parents.
A token of the appreciation of the Bench and Bar for Judge Phillip's work as a Reporter of Judicial Decisions is contained in an excerpt from a letter written by Chief Justice Allyn L. Brown and published in Volume 139 of the Connecticut Reports at the time of Judge Phillips' retirement from the office of Reporter of Judicial Decisions to accept an appointment to the Superior Court: "The discharge of your duty as Reporter...has been outstanding and in accord with the very best tradition of that high and vital office of the Court. Your keen power of analysis, your capacity for clear logical thinking, your talent for terse, lucid and exact expression, your scholarly instinct, your continued ability to function notwithstanding the exacting, continuous and ever urgent nature of the work, your understanding cooperation with the Judges, and your sound knowledge of fundamental legal principles, have been some of the qualities which have contributed to your notable success as Reporter..."
Judge Phillips' appointment to the Superior Court Bench on September 24, 1953, was applauded by the members of the Bar, for they all knew of his eminent qualifications to hold judicial office. On the Bench he was patient, considerate, kindly to witness and counsel, never making any attempt to demonstrate his wide knowledge of Connecticut statute and case law. The Bar knew that in any case presented to Judge Phillips, there was a man who was capable of grasping and sifting complicated facts to arrive at the decisive issues of fact, to which there would applied the correct rule of law.
Judge Phillips retired from the Superior Court Bench on March 9, 1960, under the constitutional limitation as to age. He immediately became active as a State Referee and heard and decided a large number of cases. Despite his work as a State Referee, he undertook at once a review of the Connecticut Practice Book, a demanding and exhausting task to which he brought his broad knowledge and experience to the production of a thoroughly commendable result. He was active in creating the Family Relations Division of the Superior Court.
There was a deep sense of charity in Judge Phillips' character. For many years he was an active member of the board of trustees of the Open Hearth Association, which he never failed to visit at Christmas time, offering a prayer and providing all the men with tobacco. For many years he sponsored a prisoner in the Connecticut State Prison to whom he gave appropriate help and kindly interest. He worked hard for the Connecticut Society for the Prevention of Blindness. He and Mrs. Phillips sponsored a Korean child. He was a deeply religious man and served as a deacon of the First Church of Christ Congregational in Farmington. In 1964 and 1965, owing to the illness of William S. Locke, who was then the Reporter of Judicial Decisions, Judge Phillips volunteered to take up temporarily the task of that office again and did so.
This recital of his career demonstrates a man of high intelligence, unusual capacities and broad character. He was fastidious, meticulous, a fighter against disorder and violence. He maintained a strict discipline on his own life. His manner was somewhat unique. He was unusually straightforward and decisive; he said precisely what he thought without quibble or apology. His listener might not be pleased, but he went away knowing that he had heard the truth from a man who knew well what truth was.
Judge Phillips was a delightful companion. While he was Reporter of Judicial Decisions for the Supreme Court and while he was on the bench, his associates sought him out as a luncheon companion and often enjoyed the warm and generous hospitality of his home, where the food was always excellent and the conversations with "Marion and Dick" lively and enlightening. For most of his life he was beset with ill health and confinement to the hospital for medical and surgical attention became more and more frequent as he grew older. Withal, no one ever heard a complaint of pain or misfortune or ill health pass his lips, nor did his illness halt his work. He was a stoic in the finest and best sense of that strong word. He loved the law and lawyers. He was a scholar and a gentleman of the highest order. Few men in the long history of the Connecticut Bar have made so great a contribution to legal knowledge and procedure as has Judge Phillips. He truly ranks among our very best.
Judge Phillips died on June 15, 1971. He left his beloved wife, Marion, and the children, Mrs. Jean Stoughton Carlson of Merced, California; Mrs. Elizabeth Stoughton Kelly of Farmington, Connecticut; Mrs. Marion Phillips Campbell of Honolulu, Hawaii; and Richard Hazard Phillips of Newburgh, New York; and ten grandchildren.
"Dick" Phillips was like a tree on a mountain ridge in the forest that stands tall and straight among its fellows and falling, leaves a big empty space in the line of tree tops against the sky.