My Grandfather: Howard Phillips

Two years ago tomorrow, my grandfather, Howard J. Phillips, was laid to rest at the age of 72. I only knew him for 16 of those 72 years, but, short though the time was, I knew him as one of the very greatest men I will ever meet. He ran for president three times, was a learned visionary; he feared God, and was principled to the core. This latter trait was very evident in my grandfather's life, and often frustrated others because they could not make him compromise "for the greater good."

Even among stalwart conservatives, Mr. Phillips was known for being especially devoted to the ideological principles of the right, including limited government, traditional family values, strong national defense and opposition to abortion.
— The New York Times

My dad tells us a story about how one day when he was traveling with my grandfather, a man came up to him and said, "Howard Phillips, I don't like your politics at all, but you are a principled man, and I respect you for that." This is one of the greatest compliments a man can be given, especially in a world where the motto is "the end justifies the means." There is no doubt my grandfather could have been much more successful in the political world had he given way to the small compromises that are demanded. But no, that was not Howard Phillips. He knew the end does not justify the means, and that sticking to what you believe, no matter the cost, is better than losing your soul for a brief moment of political fame.  This simple truth, so hard to carry out, brought him great respect from his opponents, and taught me an important life lesson I will never forget about duty and principle. On his gravestone are the words I find most appropriate: 

Howard J. Phillips 

Though many people knew Howard Phillips as the political figure, I knew him as "Papa," my grandfather. I was definitely aware of his role in the political world, to be sure. In fact, I quite stood in awe of that fact and was proud to tell everyone about it! But there was a part of my grandfather that was not news headlines or politics. This was as our Papa, master of Scrabble and Camelot (two board games of strategy, and if you managed to beat him at either, you had just entered the hall of fame). There was Papa, supreme chef of our favorite breakfast dish, fried matzo. When we visited, this was our first question: "When are you making matzo for breakfast?" Followed by, "When can you read. . .?" Though it may sound like a normal request, Papa did not just read a book. He made the book come alive in every aspect, with perfectly created accents and voice inflections. He could read the same story over and over again, but it would be new and hilarious every time. There were many stories as well, which he would tell from memory. These stories would alternate each time and some got scarier and scarier. One night, we were all huddled in the kitchen as he told a particularly frightening one, when suddenly the electricity went out, and we had to finish the story in darkness. Oh, that was chilling. Regardless of having heard the story a half dozen times before, it was enough to make everyone shiver and shudder! 

Papa was a great historian and read voraciously. He gave books as presents, instead of toys. People often ask us where our interest in history came from, and I always tell them, "Really, it came from my grandfather. He was passionate about the past, and gave this passion to my dad who passed it down to us." For years and years, he sent my dad several packages a week of newspaper clippings and articles of items he thought would be important for my dad to read. I loved going through these and trying to grasp the content of it all. Some of it was too complicated or in depth for me, but I always found something to broaden my horizons. His library was immense, and though there was probably a book on nearly every subject worth reading about, you could definitely tell where his particular interests lay as you examined the bookcases. 

There is really so much I could say about my grandfather on this day. It was a hard thing to see him go so soon, but I am so grateful for all that he did for his family and his country. 

Shortly before my grandfather was taken ill, I wrote him this letter. Regretfully, the letter was never sent, because I found it in my desk several months after he passed. But I wanted to include it here, in memory of him.

September 14, 2011

Dear Papa,                                         
Thank you so much for the silver coins you sent me for my birthday. I have been meaning for some time to write you and thank you. . . It is so meaningful to me that you think of us in such a way. It has definitely gotten me interested in the Gold/Silver market, and I have tried to take your example by investing in a little myself. I find it a very interesting subject, too.

I want to also thank you for the example and leadership you have set for Daddy, which he then passes on down to us. By your teaching Daddy a great love for history, that has been instilled in us, and I hope that we will pass it on to our children. The other day when I was at the office, I found an old pamphlet from when you were running for president. I read it through, and the most specific thing that popped out at me was when you said you would abolish the government schooling. When we were little we used to joke about doing that when "we were president," but to actually read it on a pamphlet for presidency was very thrilling, and reminded me how much you have done, and how grateful that I am your granddaughter (People still come up to us occasionally and say: "I just wanted to let you know that I vote for your grandfather every election."). I only hope and pray that I never take for granted that I have been placed in such a family, and that I am the daughter of Doug Phillips, and the granddaughter of Howard Phillips.

So, thank you again for the coins, and everything you have taught us. I wish that I could convey all of my gratitude to you.

With love, your granddaughter,