A Tribute to Bill Phillips

William V. Phillips


It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Bill Phillips passed away peacefully the morning of June 2. A lifelong YMCA professional, member, donor, and advocate, and a member of the National YMCA Hall of Fame, Mr. Phillips left an indelible mark on our Y and the entire movement through his service.

Mr. Phillips began his career as Boys' Work secretary here in his hometown of Pensacola and returned in 1968 to serve as general director of our association, leading the racial integration of our YMCA. He also served as the CEOof the Central Florida YMCA, the YMCA of Greater Seattle, and the YMCA of Greater Houston, until his retirement in 2002.

Mr. Phillips was just days shy of his 86th birthday.

David Jezek, CEO, YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg

"I remember his advice to a group of young Yprofessionals which included me, so long ago. He said: 'It's not enough to just do the job you are asked to perform, but rather what separates you from the pack. Do something that is transformational and will not only propel your career, but make a difference in the lives you serve.' It was one of those moments that you can still picture today, even after 30 years."

What the Y means to me: a video interview from 2015

The impact of Bill Phillips on the YMCA of Northwest Florida

Bill had been given his first Ymembership at age 13 by Calvin Todd. When he entered high school, Phillips joined Hi-Y, serving through all four years at Pensacola High School. He participated in the Y's Youth in Government Program and attended the Hi-Y training conference at the Y's Blue Ridge Assembly in North Carolina. It was during this visit that Phillips chose to make the YMCA his life's work.

After high school graduation, Phillips received his degree from FSU and served two years in the military. During this time, Phillips was offered the opportunity to lead the Yin Pensacola. What he had hoped would be a rewarding homecoming turned out to be a time of frustration and turmoil. In this experience, Phillips was the right man at a fateful time.

The challenges began over Ypolicy on making facilities available to minority youth. Desegregation plans had been implemented quickly, resulting in an avalanche of youth joining the Yat a time when the Ywas short staffed, and there was little supervision. Phillips arrived to find the downtown center overrun, his longtime adult members unhappy, and civil rights activities looking for ways to push their agenda. The board was trying to walk a tightrope, and some traditionalists saw Phillips as the man who was destroying the YMCA as they knew it by throwing open the door to minority membership and then tearing down the old building. A professed civil rights leader had Phillips burned in effigy for what he interpreted as a restrictive program against minorities.

Criticism flowed from every point, no matter what he did. Despite adversities, with board support, Phillips stayed the course, establishing new programs and stabilizing finances and operations. He stood bravely in the fight to integrate the Pensacola YMCA, living clearly the last two words of our mission: "for all."

- excerpted from the history of the YMCA of Northwest Florida, by John Appleyard

Our Mission: To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.