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  WINDY CITY TIMES

PASSAGES Jon Phillips dies
2015-10-29

This article shared 5838 times since Thu Oct 29, 2015
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Jon Phillips, 93, passed away Oct. 27 after a long battle with multiple illnesses. Phillips was born on Christmas Eve 1921 and graduated from Streator Township High School in Streator, Illinois.

Phillips served in the Navy and became a medic in 1942, later serving in the Marine Corps. He served as a division psychiatrist in combat areas and later worked at Edward Hines, Jr. Veterans Hospital and at the Institute of Design of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

He was hired by the City of Chicago in 1954 where he worked in the planning department, a job that brought him into contact with many celebrities and dignitaries.

In 2013, the play Under a Rainbow Flag, based on Phillips' life and written by Leo Schwartz, had its world premiere in Chicago and won the Jeff Award for Best New Work and Best Musical Production.

Phillips had been a long-time resident of Lakeview and had lived in Evanston for the last several years of his life.and then the Far North Side for the last few years.

In 2013, Windy City Times reporter Ross Forman interviewed Phillips in his one-bedroom Evanston apartment. It was filled with a first-hand view of world history, including photos, business and legal documents, handwritten notes and books. He met many celebrities as they were just breaking into entertainment, including David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Bette Midler (a1975 book about Bette Midler tells of a party that Phillips co-hosted for her), and while working for Mayor Richard J. Daley, he met many dignitaries and politicians from all over the world.

"I've had a wonderful life," Phillips said in 2013. "Walking down the halls [in this apartment complex], I often meditate, thanking God for a fantastic life. I've met wonderful people—some famous, some not so famous—but wonderful people overall."

Born to an unmarried woman, Phillips was abandoned by his mother and raised by his grandparents in suburban Streator, about 80 miles southwest of Chicago. When they got ill, he moved in an aunt and uncle who lived nearby, along with their two daughters.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941, Phillips and a friend decided to enlist in the military before they got drafted because, he said, if you enlisted, as opposed to getting drafted, you could choose which branch of the U.S. Armed Forces you wanted to join. Otherwise, it was direct to the Army.

Phillips opted for the Navy and became a medic in 1942, although he eventually was transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps. His military stint, which ended in 1945, included time in Okinawa, Japan.

"That was just one more miracle that I went through in my life. I learned a lot [while in the service,]" said Phillips, who worked for a division psychiatrist in combat, the first time a psychiatrist served on the front line. "I was glad I had the experience; I learned a lot, especially that I could get things done because I always was in charge of things."

After leaving the military, Phillips accepted a job at Edward Hines, Jr. VA [Veterans Administration] Hospital. Phillips worked at Hines Hospital for only a couple of years, then furthered his education, ultimately landing at the Institute of Design in the downtown Chicago campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

"I went to the Institute of Design because I wanted the big city [experience] and its anonymity," Phillips said. "I met a lot of people through the school. I was popular in school, so our house had the biggest parties, with many famous people attending."

Their loft on Ohio Street always was the happening place, he said.

"I went from poverty to dealing with famous people," Phillips said.

He was ultimately hired by the City of Chicago in 1954, and worked in the planning department for most of his 30-year career.

Phillips' career within the city of Chicago spanned from Mayor Martin H. Kennelly to Mayor Jane Byrne. He also worked under Mayor Michael Bilandic.

One of his big breaks came in 1956, when Mayor Richard J. Daley was preparing for a live speech on WTTW. The mayor's office called Phillips' department, looking for someone who could do some legible hand-lettering to write cue cards for the mayor's speech.

Phillips handled the task; from then on, every time the mayor's office was going to do something that required a sign or artwork, they'd call Phillips. He worked in planning for key, high-profile weddings, meetings with kings and queens, and so much more.

In 1954, Phillips helped Chicago land the title of All-America City.

In 1959, Phillips was an integral part of Chicago's planning for a visit from Queen Elizabeth II in conjunction with the St. Lawrence Seaway, and a key component to make the dinner at the Conrad Hilton Hotel extra special.

In fact, Phillips led the queen and the mayor to their table, among secret service members.

That night remained a lifelong highlight, he said. "To know that something you did made a beautiful occasion very special, very nice and dignified, and that future dinners copied [your idea.] That meant a lot," said Phillips, who admitted he was "good at making the mayor look good."

While working for the city of Chicago, he never told anyone at City Hall about his sexual orientation.

"I sublimated my sex drive my whole life. I was in denial. It wasn't tough, but it was my choice," Phillips said. "In those days, yes, it would have been tough [to be open and out]. I liked my job and my own character that it was important for me to not compromise. So I just did not have a lot of sex."

Phillips said he was dually in denial—of being gay and being straight.

Still, "If the mayor had ever called me in [to his office] and asked, 'Jon, are you gay?' I think I would have said, 'Yes, I am.' But no one ever asked me; they never had any reason to [ask]. They could have been suspicious, but I gave them no reason to say I was gay in a time when it was unpopular to be gay. That was my choice. I didn't make it easy for people to label me."

Phillips is survived by a close circle of friends including Stephen Reynolds and Leo Schwartz, as well as longtime friends Terry, Peter and Jey Born of New York City, and Tracy Baim, whose family knew Phillips starting in the 1960s.

A memorial service for Phillips will be held Dec. 13 at 2 p.m. at 1900 S. Prairie. Questions to editor@windycitymediagroup.com .

For the original interview with Phillips, see www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Chicagoan-Jon-Phillips-reflects-at-91-on-a-life-well-lived/41192.html .

Related coverage:

A 2013 interview with Phillips is available at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Gay-veteran-pleased-with-play-based-on-his-life/43053.html .


This article shared 5838 times since Thu Oct 29, 2015
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