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Dr. Morgan Lee Phillips

May 10, 1936 ~ February 24, 2023 (age 86) 86 Years Old

Dr. Morgan Phillips Obituary

 Dr. Morgan Lee Phillips passed away at Bethany House, in Auburn, Alabama, Friday, February 24, 2023, from complications related to Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Phillips, who moved to Auburn from Black Mountain, North Carolina in 2017 to be closer to family, struggled with declining memory and other health problems for much of his time in Auburn. But he found great pleasure in meeting new people, following news and politics, eating ice cream, and poring over books. As his disease progressed, reading became more difficult, but as recently as two months before his death, he was still attempting to write notes in the margins of books from his sizable collection of scholarly works.

Dr. Phillips was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on May 10, 1936, the only child of Morgan D. and Edith M. Phillips. Due to the nature of his father’s work his childhood was nomadic, living for one or two years at a time in various cities and towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. After graduation from High School in Richmond, Virginia, he  briefly attended Ohio State University, but disillusioned by the large size of that institution he soon left Ohio State.  After a brief hiatus, he re-enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, from which he received his bachelor’s degree in Pre-Theology in 1959.  

After  college, he attended both Manhattan’s Union Theological  Seminary and Yale Divinity School, where he earned his Divinity degree. He served as a Methodist minister in  Columbus, Ohio and later in Suffern, New York while earning his Ph.D. at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

In 1969, Dr. Phillips  returned to Ohio Wesleyan where he became the Amrine-Sharp-Davies and Sharp-Davies-Trimble Professor of Religion, a chair he held until his retirement in 2006. At Wesleyan, he  taught courses in Old Testament,  Prophetic and Wisdom Literature, Ancient Mediterranean Religion, The Dead Sea Scrolls, Women in the Bible, and developed courses in Judaism, Anti-Semitism, Zionism and the Holocaust, and the Modern Jewish Novel. One of his most popular courses was American Religion, which looked at a variety of religious  practices in the U.S., including Fundamentalism, Orthodox Judaism, Faith Healing and Spiritualism. He also offered independent studies in Hebrew.

In addition to teaching, Professor Phillips advised Wesleyan’s Hillel organization, students in the Pre-Theology program and served as president  of the Ohio Academy of Religion. He was a member of Psi Chi, the psychology honorary, Theta Alpha Kappa, the religion honorary, and Phi Beta Kappa.

He was a loving father who  taught his son the value of education and the urgency to never stop learning.  He taught him how to reason critically, logically, and hermeneutically, to always examine his assumptions, to think independently, and to be willing to embrace unorthodox views when warranted. He is fondly remembered for a myriad of other “Dad” type activities: playing wiffleball in the back yard, improvised bedtime stories, movies at the drive-in, hours-long conversations, sage advice liberally dispensed, and laughing loudly with a son who shared his appreciation for the absurdities of life. His sense of humor was characterized by a refusal to take himself too seriously. Upon the occasion of retirement, he told well-wishers, “With apologies to both Julius Caesar and Rabbi Hillel, ‘I came, I saw, I’m leaving; all the rest is commentary.” He also requested that the university name a broom closet after him in honor of his “sweeping vision.”

Dr. Phillips was predeceased by both  his first and second wives, Marjorie J. Phillips (married 21 years) and Carmen Copenhaver Phillips (13 years). He is survived by his son Matthew (Scott) Phillips, daughter-in-law Margaret Freehling Phillips of Auburn, grandsons Maxwell Conrad Phillips of Auburn, and  Samuel Morgan Phillips of Oakland, California. He also leaves behind his friend and companion of the last few years, Nancy Backhaus, also of Auburn. The family plans to hold a memorial service in Auburn later this summer.

Morgan’s family would like to express our deepest appreciation for the staff of Bethany House. Their care of and compassion for him was extraordinary. Because of them, he died peacefully and pain-free. The family requests that anyone wishing to honor his memory consider a donation to Compassus Bethany House, 1171 Gatewood Drive, Building 100, Auburn, Alabama 36830.

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