Thomas Rock Phillips, of Scottsville, Va., left the planet on Friday, March 15, 2019. He was born in Philadelphia, Pa., on March 4, 1953 (the only date that's a command) to Dorothy Kathryn Burns Phillips, nurse, and Almarin Phillips, economist.
Tom Phillips was a Renaissance man—musician, singer, producer, flyboy, birdwatcher, fisherman (known as "the magician" on the Outer Banks), tree climber, fixer of all things mechanical and (grudgingly) electronic, shade tree mechanic, Model-T coddler, almost Lotus restorer, 45 record player restorer, proud Scottsvillian, coiner of nicknames, fish and fowl smoker, Camp Albemarle Board member, candlepin bowler, historic construction expert, avid crossword puzzler, iconoclast, Luddite, Eeyore.
Tom spent the wonder years at Tall Pines on Garth Road while his father was a founding professor at the Darden School. During his first and only semester at UVA, he took every music course available to a freshman and Astronomy. Later he returned to Charlottesville to live in a log cabin he built on Van Yahres property off Old Lynchburg Road. In that period he helped many friends build or restore houses they live in to this day.
In 1979, Tom helped his friend Dorothy Smith escape from New York City, and they spent many happy years homesteading near Scottsville and creating a haven for friends and wanderers. Tom loved Scottsville—knowing the business owners, speaking to people on the street, and knowing who to call for esoteric jobs and repair parts.
In the early 1980s, Tom was recognized as someone good at saving old things and hired to manage restoration of a church in Boston's South End into Villa Victoria, a Hispanic Community Center. He would later be consulted on other historic buildings including early evaluation of the Paramount Theater. He restored his own 1792 home and several log cabins he used as workshops.
In 1999, Tom attended a songwriting workshop by Jimmie Dale Gilmore at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y., where he met a group of lifelong songwriting friends. He always said that Gilmore was teaching people to collaborate in writing songs so that they could better collaborate with others in life. After that life-changing experience, Tom cofounded with Bill Gessner the Omega Survivors, a group of songwriters from all around the country who came to Camp Albemarle every spring for 19 years to write together and present a benefit concert for a local organization featuring a young local singer/songwriter.
Tom built an analog studio in his home, where he recorded a variety of artists. He had perfect recall for six decades of song lyrics and applied them unsparingly in daily life. Favorite musicians included T-Bone Burnett, Guy Clark, Marshall Crenshaw, Bob Dylan, Evan and Jaron, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, George Harrison, Brian Wilson. A fitting epitaph for Tom might be the mission statement for his beloved TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia): "Keeping The Message In The Music And The Music Of The People". For Tom the message was Love. Ever laconic, Tom himself said his epitaph should read, "He did his best."
Tom Phillips is preceded in death by his parents, oldest brother, Paul Phillips, and niece, Peggy O'Neill. His living and loving siblings are Peter Phillips and wife, Elaine Bromka, of Montclair, N.J., David Phillips and husband, Gary Smith, of Toronto, Canada, Bess Phillips and husband, David Pankow, of Rochester, N.Y., Charlie Phillips and wife, Teresa Winte, of Glen Mills, Pa., and Carole Thomson, wife of Paul Phillips, of Wellesley Hills, Mass. Nieces and nephews who hold Tom in fond memory are Sophia Starmack and partner, Dion Mattison, of Brooklyn, Peter Bromka Phillips and wife, Tracy, of Montclair, N.J., Julia Phillips and husband, Alex Eleftherakis, of Brooklyn, and Lucy O'Neill and fiancé, Ian Wells, of Lakeville, N.Y. His family wishes to thank Jeanie Putnam and George Hooper for their unstinting devotion to Tom's comfort and peace of mind in his final months. Donations can be made in Tom's honor to Camp Albemarle, 1675 4-H Way, Charlottesville, VA 22901.