Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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GILBERT WHEELER PHILLIPS was born in Woodstock, Conn., July 22d, 1828. In the spring of 1855 he removed to Putnam in this state, and there resided until his death, which occurred October 24th, 1888.
His educational opportunities were such as were afforded him in the common schools, and in the academy of his native town, supplemented by a course of instruction at the academy in Dudley, Mass.
He studied law in the office of George S. F. Stoddard, Esq., at Woodstock, was admitted to the bar in 1852 and at once commenced professional work, laboring therein with an enthusiasm that never abated so long as health and strength remained.
In 1852 he married Jane Stoddard, a daughter of Lieut. Gov. Stoddard, and a sister of his instructor in the law. Three children were born to him, of whom two, and his wife, survive.
The career of Mr. Phillips was most successful and honorable, and his life in its many phases was such as to command always the respect and confidence of those with whom he was brought into contact. He was a busy man of affairs, and his times of relaxation were from the first few and far between; in fact, with the exception of a vacation trip with his family to Europe in 1881 and a brief excursion to California, I do not recall any period during the years of my acquaintance with him when he was not hard at work, until the relentless disease, whose victim he became, laid its heavy hand upon him.
Mr. Phillips was a good lawyer, a keen observer of men and things, generally correct in his judgment of character and motive, and admirable in the preparation and presentation of a case. He was not an eloquent advocate, by no means an orator, but his arguments were logical and his delivery earnest and impressive. He fully realized both the weak and strong points in his case, and his conclusion as to the probable effect of certain evidence upon the minds of the jury was often surprising in its accuracy. He studied his case before he tried it, and understood it thoroughly when he entered the court room. His clients were numerous and the strain of his work often severe. For many years he was the attorney of the New York and New England Railroad Company, and conducted for them a large number of cases. He was an honest lawyer, above all mean and unworthy expedients, and most courteous withal.
Mr. Phillips was prominent outside the sphere of his profession. He was assistant clerk of the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1853, and in 1860, 1861 and 1872 he was a member of that body. In 1862, 1863 and 1879 he represented in the Senate the Fourteenth District, acting as chairman of the judiciary committee during the last two years of his service there and as president pro tem. in 1879. He was re-elected in 1880, but shortly after the opening of the session resigned on account of the pressure of legal business.
In local affairs Mr. Phillips manifested the deepest interest; he was liberal and public spirited, ever ready to aid in the furtherance of any object promotive of the growth and the prosperity of the town; he was one of the founders of the First National Bank of Putnam and until the very last its president. He was also one of the corporators and trustees of the Putnam Savings Bank.
In all the relations of private life his bearing was such as to win the respect of all with whom he had intercourse. He was a most affectionate husband and father, devoted to his home and family, never so happy as when under his own roof with those he loved about him. He was a kind neighbor and a warm and constant friend.
Mr. Phillips for many years prior to his decease was a consistent member of the Congregational Church in Putnam and one of its most active and liberal supporters. His pastor for many years, the Rev. C. S. Brooks, in his funeral address thus refers to the religious side of his character and his life. "He saw into and sensed the divineness of life and of eternal things and opened up the Godward side of his nature to them, and while he gave himself to a proper worldliness he joined with it attention to and prosecution of that other-worldliness which rounds our experience and makes us, as we ought to be, men of time and men of eternity." The bar of his state knew Mr. Phillips well, and I am sure will mourn his untimely departure from among us no less keenly than do those who recognized and appreciated the manly qualities exhibited by him in lines of thought and activity other than those peculiar to the forum.