A special tribute to Tom Phillips, longtime Gordon Board of Trustees member and major benefactor of the College, took place Saturday, May 30, on Gordon’s Dale E. and Sarah Ann Fowler Campus. Phillips served on the Board for 40 years while also serving in leadership roles at the Raytheon Company and as a board member of Digital Equipment Corporation. He joined Raytheon in 1948 as an engineer and retired in 1991 as chairman and CEO. He and his wife, Gert, have consistently supported and encouraged Gordon students, faculty and staff.
The day’s first event, a four-handed piano concert, took place in Phillips Recital Hall, whose tall windows frame Coy Pond, also known as Pete’s Pond (for trustee Peter Bennett). Performers were Gordon artist-in-residence and professor of music Mia Chung, and Alina Polyakov, music faculty at Gordon College and the Boston Conservatory. They played selections by Bartoldi, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff. The Phillipses were major donors for the Phillips Music Center, dedicated in May 2000.
After the concert guests made the short walk to the Ken Olsen Science Center, where, in the DEC Loggia of Technology, they enjoyed a luncheon and tributes to Tom and Gert. In the MacDonald Auditorium a film showcased the accomplishments of Tom as innovative and visionary Raytheon CEO. In addition to President Jud Carlberg and his wife, Jan, speakers included Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship; Richard Gross, former president of Gordon College; Joanna S. Mockler of World Vision; Armand M. Nicholi, M.D., of Harvard Medical School; Gordon trustee Peter Bennett; James V. Pocock, pastor; and William H. Swanson, chairman of the board and chief executive officer, Raytheon Company.
“Tom has been a supportive friend and a truly great Board member with a heart for Christian education,” said President Carlberg. “He understands that the young leaders forged here at Gordon are exactly the ones needed in business, education, the sciences and arts, and the Church.” Carlberg said of the stretch of walkway outside the Science Center that has been named for Phillips, “This walkway is part of the very backbone of the College, as Tom has been the backbone of the Board.”
Joanna Mockler referred to Phillips as “internationally adventuresome,” and said, “Tom, this day is a gift to us, and you honor us by accepting it.” Peter Bennett praised Phillips’ ability to speak wisdom into confusing situations. “It’s like that E. F. Hutton commercial: When Tom speaks, people listen.”
Of his years working under Phillips at Raytheon, current CEO William Swanson recalled that “having Tom as a mentor was like having your own Warren Buffett coaching you on.” Of his many times golfing with Phillips, he said: “You learn more about a person playing golf with him than at work. Tom counted every stroke.” Armand Nicholi began his tribute on a humorous note: “I’ve known Tom for more than 50 years. But how could we have met 50 years ago if I’m only 48?”
Richard Gross, president of Gordon 1976–1992, asked: “What did Tom have on his desk? A yellow legal pad and a freshly sharpened pencil. Tom is a big-picture guy—macro, not micro.” Gross credited Phillips with pivotal leadership during the time when Gordon College was establishing a separate identity from what is now Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary:
“Tom came up with a creative and insightful solution that preserved the assets of the College but also exercised the leadership of generosity.”
Phillips’ leadership, however, extends beyond the business and academic world. The Phillipses are longtime members of Trinitarian Congregational Church (TCC) in Wayland, Massachusetts, home church to many alumni and friends of the College. Current TCC pastor James V. Pocock noted Tom and Gert’s half century of service at Trinitarian as high school youth group leaders and adult Sunday school teachers.
Through avenues like First Tuesday—a monthly breakfast Phillips sponsors for corporate, church and civic CEOs in
the Boston area—he has also had considerable Christian influence on the leaders of the region. Over many years he
has quietly invested time and care into many men and women, providing them unique opportunities to develop their personal and professional leadership skills in the context of their Christian faith.
One of those people was Chuck Colson, former special counsel to President Richard Nixon—notorious as Nixon’s “hatchet man” before his conversion. In 1973, months before the word “Watergate” would become shorthand for a national scandal, Colson met privately with Phillips, who shared his faith with Colson. “Thirty-six years ago, in a flood of tears, my life was transformed,” Colson said. “What do you say to someone who saved your life? I will continue to serve Christ as long as I have breath.”
In addition to his leadership contributions, Phillips and Raytheon have donated his archives to Gordon College. Some of the items within the collection are photographs (including pictures with five U.S. presidents), videos, speeches, letters, articles, copies of his 11 honorary degrees, an original Amana microwave, a model of the Hawk missile and relevant publications from his career at Raytheon.
The Phillips/Raytheon archives are the second technology-related archives housed at Gordon College; Ken Olsen donated the archives from the Digital Equipment Corporation last fall.
To coincide with the donation, Swanson announced the creation of the Phillips/Raytheon Scholarship for women and minority students at Gordon pursuing majors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The $100,000 scholarship, in honor of Phillips’ service to Raytheon and his commitment to local communities, is the first of its kind for STEM students at Gordon.
“As a real friend and a great Board member, Tom has played an absolutely crucial role in making Gordon what it is today,” said Carlberg. “We are grateful for his commitment to our students with both his archives and this scholarship, particularly for students whose circumstances might present challenges or obstacles to their education.”
“Tom Phillips is a pathfinder in many ways: engineer, family man, leader, inspiration, mentor and someone who has
always given back to his community,” said Swanson. “It’s our honor to recognize Tom’s longstanding commitment to country, company and community with this endowment to Gordon College.”