Brian Hamilton: Goodbye to a good guy
January 31, 2017
"Good morning, Brian. … Dick Phillips here."
Dick didn't need to tell me who was on the other end of the phone. Through the years, I'd come to know his voice quite well, whether via voicemail or when I picked up the phone. I also know his handwriting as soon as I see it, through his op-eds or letters to the editor, sharing his thoughts on The Union, the community, politics, sports or just life, in general.
When I saw his number come up on the caller ID last week, I looked forward to another message sure to set me straight about something I'd written or perhaps he was calling to let me know he'd just dropped another letter in the mail.
Sadly, his wife, Rosalie, let me know there would be no more letters to the editor or phone calls from Dick. He died at the age of 86.
It might sound odd, considering we'd only met in person on a couple occasions, but I couldn't help but feel as though I'd lost a friend.
One of my favorite aspects of this job is the opportunity to meet people. Sure we shake plenty of hands and meet members of the community all the time, whether we're interviewing sources, attending or speaking at events as representatives of The Union, or just when we're out to dinner and bump into folks whose faces might not be familiar, but their names sure are.
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But quite often, in this fast-paced environment, we "meet" many more people through email, voicemail or even good ol' snail mail.
As I said, Dick and I did meet, but it must have been more than five years ago — about the time he stopped driving. But that certainly didn't deter our conversations.
"I would walk in the door from work and hear both of you talking," Rosalie said. "I remember you two having talks for a very, very long time, even before you became editor of the paper."
I remember one call that came to the sports desk, when Dick decided a Nevada Union High School quarterback would just be a perfect fit for his Ohio University Bobcats. Though I don't believe his recruiting efforts extended any further, our conversation on Ohio football — and his own playing days — certainly did.
His obituary mentioned he played for the Bobcats, but it doesn't say that nearly 70 years since his playing days that he still holds the school record for most punt return yardage in a single game (153 yards against Western Reserve). His 80-yard punt return for a touchdown against Butler in 1950 ranks ninth all-time. And his season average of 20.7 yards per punt return is No. 1 in the history of the Bobcats, which he led in both rushing and scoring his senior season.
He didn't tell me any of that. I learned it by reading the 2017 Bobcats media guide.
"Yeah, but that was a long time ago," I can still hear him saying.
Though he shared some of his sporting world exploits, he didn't seem one to live in the "glory days." His interests, and our conversations, delved much deeper — as a list of his favorite books depicted in a 2002 column published by The Union, of course with Thoreau's "Walden" at the top.
He had served as a veteran, worked an executive for a New York City advertising agency and eventually went into the construction business upon arriving in Grass Valley in the mid '70s.
"You know the problem with California?" he once said. "The weather is too nice. You need bad weather, like back in the Midwest, to toughen people up."
Dick was one tough cookie himself, dealing with effects of a brain tumor and a stroke that made use of his left hand a struggle. He could no longer type, so he drafted letters to the editor and op-ed submissions by hand in order to still share his thoughts with our community.
"I really miss my husband," said Rosalie, his wife of 20 years. "What a bright guy. He was always writing the political stuff. He had so much to say."
He certainly did. And no matter the topic at hand, we were always able to engage in a thoughtful conversation we both enjoyed — even when we quite often ended our talks by agreeing to disagree.
One of his last letters, mailed late last year, included a personal note to let me know that he was no longer mobile, that he enjoyed having guests and that I should feel free to visit.
I'm sorry to say I didn't make it enough of a priority, and fully expected to hear a voicemail from him any day now.
But with word of his death, I'm grateful to have had heard from him so often and gotten to know him so well.
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at email@example.com or 530-477-4249.