Jim Phillips, in a very real way, provided the soundtrack for the lives of generations. He was a journalist who demanded the truth in everything he reported whether it was school sports or local or national news. And his insistence on clear verification of everything he set his pen or voice to built an unshakable competence and credibility; if Phillips said it or wrote it down, it was a truth upon which you could depend.
Over the decades, he became a benchmark of excellence, a mentor to many and a friend to all he met.
Phillips, 85, died on Monday at home following a long illness. “I have known him all of my life,” said Star Elementary Principal Charlie Baker.
“He was an inspiration to me, and more than a role model. He represented integrity with capital letters.”
And Baker said that he wasn’t the only one who looked up to Phillips.
“He influenced so many people over the years,” said Baker, a longtime basketball coach and radio contributor. “Everyone idolized him, and he treated everyone with respect and encouraged them to always do better.” Baker said Phillips even wrote inspirational plaques for teams at Star Elementary. He remembers his friend as the best person and friend you could imagine, and his sincerity was genuine. He was positive and encouraging to everyone, but Baker said Phillips never “sugar-coated” anything. He always told things the way they were.
Phillips’ seven-decade career began in 1947 when, at the age of 13, he began sweeping the floors at the Grayson Journal-Enquirer. It was there he began his vocation and his passion for journalism, soon trading in his broom for a typewriter, and in all ways typifying the energetic “cub reporter.”
His teenage years were spent chasing and writing stories, including a local story which appeared on the front page of the Ashland Daily Independent. His passion and preoccupation with journalism showed through as excitement — never arrogance — as he pointed out the story was “above the fold” and could easily be seen when the newspaper was in the paper box or laid out face up. He stressed how important that was. Later, Phillips’ name would be perpetually above the fold not only for his stories, but as the head editor for the newspaper where he once swept the floors.
Phillips was never one to sit back on laurels, however. He was a man with a prodigious work ethic, according to those who knew him best. He covered all the news in Grayson and Carter County. Nearly every public meeting found Phillips in attendance, gathering information and news for the community he served. He became a fixture at these meetings, events and elections and every other gathering he felt was important — which to Phillips meant every single one.
In 1969, Phillips changed platforms by switching to broadcast journalism, becoming the news director at WGOH Radio in Grayson. There, Phillips not only covered the news but was also the morning
DJ for many years. He brought his passion for news and accuracy to the platform, and local residents depended upon Phillips to let them know what was going on in the area and beyond. In 1977, when a train derailed in Leon, many residents of the area were without water. Phillips covered the story with regular updates, keeping residents informed in a way few others could. And when the horrific shootings happened in 1993 at East Carter High School, Phillips’ calm competence helped area residents deal with the tragedy.
“There aren’t many like Jim Phillips,” said station owner Dee Dee Shufflebarger. “He was one of those men you could say they truly broke the mold when they made him.”
Shufflebarger’s father, who started the station, was so impressed with Phillips’ integrity and work ethic that, from the beginning, he knew he wanted him to run the station. The confidence was not misplaced because Phillips became everything for the station her father hoped he would.
Shufflebarger said Phillips was an amazing journalist who interviewed a wide range of local and national personalities.
“It is hard to list the people Jim has talked to,” Shufflebarger said.
“He has interviewed Barbara Bush, Keith Whitley, Louise Mandrell and Bill Monroe,” she said. “And he has even interviewed Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.”
Phillips, according to Shufflebarger, was a powerhouse of talent and had a phenomenal work ethic. “He wrote and recorded the news for decades,” Shufflebarger said. “And he always said he never wanted to retire; he loved it that much. And I said he could do the news for as long as he liked, and was grateful for everything he did.”
Phillips, Shufflebarger said, was actively contributing to the station up to the day before he died. “It is a truly sad time at the station,” Shufflebarger said. “We will all miss him so much, but we are truly thankful for the positive influence he has had in our lives for so many years.”
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