[Baltimore Sun] Wendell Phillips, former Maryland state delegate who worked for HBCUs, dies

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Wendell Phillips, a preacher’s son, state delegate and advocate for historically Black colleges and universities, died of cancer May 24 at Duke Raleigh Hospital in North Carolina. He was 60.

Wendell Fitzgerald Phillips was born in Rochester, New York, in 1964 and moved to Baltimore when he was 6 months old.

His father, the Rev. Wendell H. Phillips, was a pastor at Heritage United Church of Christ on Liberty Heights Avenue in Northwest Baltimore’s Ashburton neighborhood for 29 years and the first Black person to head Baltimore City’s house delegation in Annapolis. His mother, Dorothy Phillips, was an executive assistant to a federal judge.

“The church was founded in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a group of folks that were Baltimoreans but not welcome in white churches, so they established their own,” said Deborah Taylor, a church member since the 1970s and family friend who knew Mr. Phillips since he was in middle school. “He was the grandson and son of a pastor. He had uncles and cousins. Some people can go different ways, and some people will resist it. He found the path that was comfortable for him.”

Mr. Phillips graduated in 1982 from Baltimore City College, where he played bass in a band with friends, and in 1989 from Morgan State University with a degree in political science.

Wendell Phillips left behind a personal library of over 1,000 books.

His wife, Ruth Gilliam Phillips, said they met as undergraduate students at Morgan State when she was still engaged to somebody else.

“I was sitting by myself eating lunch. He came and sat down and introduced himself,” she said. “I had never seen him before, but when I saw him for the first time, I was like, ‘Uh-oh.’ He had the most beautiful smile.”

The two fell in and out of touch until reconnecting in the 1990s after both of their fathers had died. They married at Heritage United Church of Christ in December 1998.

In 1999, Mr. Phillips started a four-year term representing Baltimore City’s District 41, the same one his father served from 1979 to 1981, and he and his wife welcomed their first daughter, Clarke. Their second daughter, Logan, was born in 2007.

“When I met him, he had not yet started in politics, but that was always a desire of his life,” Ruth Gilliam Phillips said. “He ran a grassroots campaign like his father. He was always about serving people who were underserved.”

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After the State House, Mr. Phillips worked for Coppin State University before leaving Baltimore for North Carolina in 2007.

He worked at HBCUs North Carolina AT&T State, North Carolina Central and Fayetteville State University, mostly in presidents’ offices, government relations and community outreach. At Providence Baptist Church in Greensboro, he was ordained as a minister, taught Sunday school and sang in the choir.

“Growing up at his dad’s hip instilled in him the importance of education and the importance of advocating,” Ruth Gilliam Phillips said.

Mr. Phillips won his wife over with CDs. He enjoyed R&B, funk and soul music of bands like Mint Condition and Breakwater, and playing video games with his two daughters. He left behind a personal library of over 1,000 books, many on Black history and culture.

“He was definitely a ‘girl dad’ before that was even a term,” Ruth Gilliam Phillips said. “They were his heart and sunshine.”

He is survived by his wife, Ruth, and daughters, Clarke and Logan, of Greensboro.

Hundreds attended funerals at both churches in Baltimore and Greensboro.

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