Eugene “Gene” Phillips was born on a Wednesday in 1953. He grew up in Orinda, a small town just east of Berkeley. He died this year, on a Wednesday, in a small town in Oregon, just east of the Willamette River, Eugene.
Wednesday’s child is thought to be a bit gloomy and moody, full of woe because they feel empathy and sadness for others. We all loved Gene as much as we could and as much as he would let us, and in the end, it was true: He loved each of us in his family and helped others in a life that, in its own way, was filled with empathy.
As kids, we roamed the creeks, hunted golf balls and rode our bicycles. Our parents were often busy, and in the earliest of those years, Gene was raised by Loming, an au pair who doted on him. We moved often, never far from the last house built by our parents. With each move and new start, life at home became more chaotic, where the pressures of operating a family business took a toll on each of us and left us with a sense of isolation and to our own devices. Gene went to an alternative high school and became enamored with farming. He also experimented with drugs. The drugs would become a blanket that shaped the rest of his life.
After high school, Gene moved to Oregon and worked on a farm his former high school teacher and mentor owned. His favorite books became The Farmers’ Almanac, The Whole Earth Catalog and Jack London’s Call of The Wild.
Gene later bought a farm in Myrtle Creek to live his dream of becoming an organic farmer. During that time, one that began with sobriety, he fell in love with Kim and fathered a child, Rebecca. But his dreams gave way to the reality of his demons. His relationship deteriorated. Kim and Rebecca moved away. The farm sold.
Gene moved away and disappeared into a lifelong indentureship to homelessness and drug addiction. During these years, Gene often tried to regain his sobriety only to find himself unable to break the chains of his addiction. It did not rob him of his humanity or break his true heart. His daughter reminds us of Gene’s true nature: “Despite my Dad’s struggle with his addiction, he always went out of his way to make me feel loved. He consistently sent cards and gifts for birthdays, holidays and sometimes just because. For a long time, I was plagued by feelings of resentment and doubt, which prevented me from reaching out and connecting with him.”
In these years, Gene became a beloved member of his community, and as time passed, he learned to build relationships and helped others in their travail. Gene was well-loved by those who provided him aid and comfort, particularly his beloved Bridgette and Black Thistle Street Aid. Gene is remembered around town for his tie-dye shirts and red suspenders, his ever-generous heart and all-knowing smile. He enjoyed soup at the Kiva, walking through Saturday Market, listening to classic rock and reading crime novels.
As the years passed, Gene was able to connect in a more meaningful way with Kim and Rebecca. “During the time we shared together over the past seven years, a lot was revealed to me,” Rebecca Phillips says. “My Dad loved me very much . . . and told me he was proud.” What I saw over the past seven years is my Dad had such a strong spirit and loving heart that was able to shine through whatever battles he was facing that day.”
We are thankful that shortly before his death, we were able to spend some time together with him. He passed knowing he was loved and loving all of us. We all loved Gene through his life as much as we could and as much as he would let us, and in the end, it was true: He loved each of us in his family and helped others in a life that, in its own way, was filled with empathy.
He is dearly missed.
— Written and submitted by Phillips’ family