Family man, educator, and Clarks Green Council member Barry Phillips lived to always help others and those he worked with, according to his wife, Sarah Phillips. Barry, 58, passed away May 15 after complications from an unexpected surgery, and leaves a legacy in the Abingtons through years of dedication to his family, love of education, and serving his community.
Family man, neighbor
The Phillips moved to the Abingtons in 1987 after Barry accepted a position teaching with then Baptist Bible College and Seminary (BBCS), now Summit University.
“It’s home for us,” Sarah said of the Abingtons. “We really loved it here. It was a wonderful place to raise our daughters, and we never thought about going anywhere else.”
Barry, originally from Michigan, and Sarah, originally from New York, met in college at Tennessee Temple University. On July 14, 1979, “amid flowers and tulle,” according to Sarah, they committed their lives to one another. Reflecting on the foundation of her and Barry’s relationship and their faith in God, Sarah said, “We can trust Him with our story for ‘as long as we both shall live.’ And beyond.
“Barry was the same person at home as he was outside,” Sarah said when describing her husband. “Gentle, kind, always friendly. He was always for the other guy. When he played games with our girls, he would play so he could teach them to win.”
One of his legacies with the kids is what the Phillips’ called “paper route deals.” “I’ll deliver your paper Saturday morning so you can sleep in,” his wife said Barry would tell the girls. “He was always doing to help someone else benefit.” The Phillips’ daughters are Jana, 32, Sharon, 29, and Elisabeth, 17.
Barry was also a deeply spiritual man, and a very involved member with Summit Baptist Bible Church in Clarks Summit. “It wasn’t just something he did on Sunday,” Sarah said. “He lived it every day of the week.”
In 2003, the Phillips family was involved in a serious car accident that left Barry with a brain stem injury. “A traumatic brain stem injury changes a lot of things,” his wife said. Barry’s focus turned from focusing on the big picture to more on the individual, and helping others. “He turned a lemon (the injury) into still wanting to contribute.”
And contribute he did — to his home and the community. Barry was an active gardener, helped with household chores, and was always engaged in learning. He taught himself Spanish and led Spanish language lessons at the Abington Senior Center. Sarah said that after class, Barry would take everyone from class to a Mexican restaurant in Clarks Summit, where he made arrangements ahead of time for the waiter to speak only in Spanish as a lesson.
“It wasn’t about so much of what he accomplished. He just loved learning,” she said. “There was always a quest for learning.”
Learning was especially important to Barry within his family and his career. Sarah described an addition on their home that the family called, “the learning room” where Barry brought globes and maps, and was always teaching his daughters and helping with their homework.
Quest for learning
When Barry and Sarah met in college, they dated and were engaged when Sarah still had two more years to finish her bachelor’s degree. Her parents wanted her to finish school before getting married. “That was when Barry snagged his first master’s in those two years,” Sarah said.
It was his first of many. Barry’s degrees include a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Science, and a Master of Science from Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, Tennessee; two Masters of Ministry and one Master of Divinity from Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit; and a Doctorate of Philosophy from Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, Florida.
Before moving to Clarks Green, Barry taught social studies at Webster Christian School in Webster, New York. After three years of teaching, he became the principle at the school for five years before the family moved to Pennsylvania when he accepted a job teaching in the education department at Summit University.
“Barry was a gifted administrator. He had an amazing ability to get the best out of the people that worked with him,” said Summit University Vice President for Communications and External Relations, Mel Walker.
According to Walker, Barry was instrumental in obtaining the school’s state education accreditation. When Barry began teaching, the university’s education major was largely geared to prepare students for teaching in religious or Christian schools. Barry worked with local high schools to get the university’s students experienced in public school teaching so that now, years later, graduates may teach in Christian or religious schools, and public schools.
“Without him taking that step back then, we certainly wouldn’t be where we are today,” Walker said.
As an administrator, Walker said Barry made sure that faculty helped the students do their best.
“He was a great encourager to students. He believed in students.”
Walker referenced Summit University professor Dr. Dennis Wilhite’s words from Barry’s services that, in life, Barry was a gardener, literally and metaphorically.
“Barry would look at something in its infancy and watch it grow, and nurture it, and develop it. I thought that was a great analogy of Barry’s life,” Walker said.
Serving the community
At the regular Clarks Green council meeting May 20, Council President David Rinaldi held a moment of silence for Barry and his family at the start of the meeting. Every member of Clarks Green Council commented on Barry’s kindness, his spirit, and his contributions to council and therefore the community.
“I personally was privileged to know him. He was a good man of faith and conviction, always willing to contribute to the common good,” Rinaldi said.
Sarah said Barry was involved in recycling and sustainability efforts in the borough and enjoyed being involved in the political aspect of the community. “That was showing some ownership in the community,” she said.
In 2010, Barry started attending Clarks Green Council meetings. A republican, Barry won the nomination for council in the May 2011 primary and conducted a bipartisan campaign with democrat Keith Williams for the November election. Barry was elected to council on Nov. 8, 2011 for a four-year term ending Dec. 31, 2015, according to Rinaldi.
Williams, the Phillips’ neighbor, and Barry’s fellow council member, said, “Barry’s passion and skills traveled well on council,” and Mayor Thorburn said Barry’s work on council was, “excellent.”
Joe Barrasse said Barry had a profound impact on him, and that he especially appreciated his work helping secure the fire contract and other council projects.
As chair of the building and grounds committee, Barry supervised multiple projects including the installation of the handicapped door opener on the borough building, and replacements of the borough’s computer system and software, the outdoor building lighting with LED energy efficient fixtures, the garage heating system and insulation, and he assisted creating the new borough website and social media sites. Barry and Sarah were also involved with Clarks Green’s Centennial Celebration in May 2014.
With all of his accomplishments, multiple council members said Barry was always humble. Sarah said Barry “would smile when his ideas were implemented, but he was fine not to be acknowledged.”
“He was honest, sincere, and ethical. I always trusted him to vote for things for the right reasons,” said council member Maureen Palmer. According to council member Alan Hughes, Barry “brought civility and calmness to council,” and Lynne Earley affirmed Barry always showed his priorities for his family.
And so Barry’s legacy lives on within his family and the community as simply and poignantly as his wife Sarah said was his personal motto that he lived by to help the other guy, “Love God, and love your neighbor.”