In 1973, when Chuck Colson was facing arrest for conspiring to cover up the Watergate burglary, his friend Tom Phillips prayed with him and read to him from C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Soon afterward Colson became a Christian, giving himself to the Lord while sitting in Phillips’ driveway with tears streaming down his face. Since serving time in prison himself, Colson has spent many years serving the Lord through the ministry of Prison Fellowship and sharing the life-changing power of the gospel. Such has been the impact of Tom Phillips’ life since finding God’s peace.
Even though Tom was CEO of electronics giant Raytheon, he struggled to find a sense of meaning until he became a believer. As a new Christian he had never shared the gospel with anyone until God spoke to him saying, “Tell Chuck Colson about me because he needs a friend.” Since then Tom has been a great friend and brother to many, including me.
When I was just 35 years old, I came to Gordon College to interview as dean of the faculty. As part of that process, I met with the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, a group of powerful, well-known men of faith—and at that time they were all men—each highly influential in his particular sphere. Though he was one of the most powerful among them, Tom Phillips made a point of sitting with me at lunch that day and asking me wonderful questions about my background and about my dream of being at Gordon. I was immediately struck by his personal interest, and he sold Gordon College to me.
After lunch the trustees dismissed me and went into executive session where, as I learned much later, one of the old lions of the Board was adamantly opposed to hiring me because he thought I was too young and therefore too inexperienced for the job. It was Tom who carried the day for me, saying, “We said we need some youth in this organization. So let’s give the young man a chance.” Ever since he has been a wonderful supporter and friend and a Board member with a great heart for Christian education. He understands that the leaders forged here are exactly the ones needed in business, education, the sciences and the Church.
On May 30, here on campus, we celebrated Life, Leadership and Legacy: A Tribute to Tom Phillips in recognition of all that he and his wife, Gert, have done not only for Gordon College but for the cause of Christ in New England and beyond. On that great occasion we unveiled the new Phillips Walk—a stretch of the College’s campus passing by the Phillips Music Hall and the adjoining Ken Olsen Science Center. We also announced that the gift of Tom’s Raytheon archives will be housed, most fittingly, in the mathematics, computer science and physics hall of the new Science Center in a space overlooking Phillips Music Hall.
Tom Phillips’ life is a great example of the power of one person being wholly committed to Christ. As head of Raytheon for many years, he held one of the most powerful corporate positions in New England and did so with complete integrity. He has also had considerable Christian influence on the leaders of the region. Over many years he has quietly given numerous men and women “a chance” like the one he gave me. I couldn’t be more grateful for his example, his friendship, and his legacy to Gordon College.
R. Judson Carlberg, Ph.D