John Phillips, aka “The Duke.”
For more than 45 years John was a co-worker, confidant, go-to guy and most of all a cherished and beloved friend.
His passing Wednesday marked the end of an era in the Gazette newsroom as we worked through the transition from the old Indiana Evening Gazette on Philadelphia Street — next to the Indiana Free Library — to the current location on Water Street.
We left our typewriters in the old building and went back to school to learn how to operate computers.
For John, this was a “piece of cake.” The guy was so intelligent I thought he could have been one of our instructors.
He was such a quick learner and adapted to the new system with no problem. You never heard a complaint or any remark that it would be a difficult transition.
And that’s the way John lived his life, without any flair, never a complaint or a bad word about anyone.
Quiet and unassuming, he was good as what he did, whether it was working on Page 1, putting out the Sunday edition, or the editorial page, copy editing, or any other newsroom chore. He accepted whatever job the editor assigned … and found time to write a column. There was a time he wrote the column twice weekly.
He saved the hard copy of all those columns, which is a real blessing for his daughter.
John sat in the seat in the middle of the editors’ horseshoe in the newsroom, and I was directly in front of him on the rim. So we were not far apart.
He was always there to lend a hand, no matter what the situation, and had a true understanding of the word “deadline,” even though there were days the editor would shout, “John, I need your column in two minutes,” and he delivered.
Not only did we work together, we played together. I was honored to serve as best man at his wedding and godfather to his daughter, Sara Beth.
Whether it was on the golf course or the bowling alley — his two favorite sports — he gave it his best shot.
And, oh yes, I forgot to mention, no matter where he was, at work or play, he always wore a visor and had a cigar clenched between his teeth.
Which reminds me of an experience when we went white-water rafting at Ohiopyle.
John manned the position of steering our raft and worked the rudder.
But, when the guide, who was standing on a rock that separated the waterway, pointed to go left, John ignored him and went right, stating that it was smoother on the right side.
Sure enough, we got caught in an eddy and John got flipped out of the back of the boat. When I turned and looked back, he was gone.
Then his head popped up and I hollered, “John, get your paddle,” as it floated away.
Although the visor was gone, the cigar was still clenched tightly in his teeth and he screamed, “(Heck) with the paddle, get me back on the &%#& boat.”
Needless to say, one of the guides got into our raft and steered us the rest of the way.
I could tell a thousand stories about “The Duke” and so could his many friends at the Indiana VFW Country Club. And they all would be very much the same: He had a dry sense of humor along with a quick wit, never complained and was always there when you needed a friend.
John was one of a kind, and it was my honor to be his friend.