Art Phillips remembered as visionary

Former Vancouver mayor died March 29

(Note: This story has been updated since it was first posted April 1)

Lawyer and city hall watchdog Jonathon Baker says former mayor Art Phillips, who died March 29, often reminded him in the 1970s of a young John F. Kennedy.

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Phillips was the most impressive man I ever met, said Baker. I got to meet JFK once and they were very similar in terms of looks and charm. If Phillips had really wanted a long time career in politics he would have risen very high.

Phillips, born in Montreal in 1930, passed away Good Friday at Vancouver General Hospital due to complications from an infection. He was 82 years old. Phillips leaves behind his wife, SFU chancellor Carole Taylor, six children, numerous grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Prior to entering politics in the 1960s, Phillips established the financial investment firm Phillips, Hager and North in Vancouver. In 1968, Phillips helped launch the centrist political party The Electors Action Movement (TEAM) and was elected to city council. He was elected to mayor in 1973, a position he held for four years. In 1979, Phillips was elected as the Liberal MP for Vancouver-Centre, but lost his bid for re-election the next year.

Baker described Phillips as a visionary for his work in not only halting an expressway planned for Strathcona and Chinatown, but also for clearing the way for sidewalk cafes, heritage preservation and even apartment balconies. Under Phillips the city transformed False Creek into a residential community, where he moved with Taylor shortly after the couple married.

Baker said great men like Phillips arent just known for their successes but, more importantly, their failures. He said Granville Mall is an example of such bad decision making. It became known as Phillips Folly, said Baker. Malls were the trend of the day, just like bike paths are today. Granville Mall is an example of following a trend and you need to beware of trends.

On the other hand, Baker said Granville Island is an example of going against trends.

The popular shopping area was a federal initiative, but one that Phillips fought for.

The editor of the Sun called it a disaster and said the whole idea of a farmers market was idiotic, said Baker. But Phillips persevered and look at Granville Island today.

In an email to the Courier, former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, who also served as mayor of Vancouver, called Phillips the best mayor Vancouver ever had.

He changed the face of the city, but more importantly he changed how we feel about it, wrote Campbell, who is serving in London, England as a high commissioner with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. The icons of quality of life, living downtown, waterfront walks, protecting neighbourhoods are all the results of Art Phillips leadership His respect for people, his kindness and his ability to find agreement were all reflected in the exemplary public life he lived.

Campbell said most important to Phillips was his family.

Carole and the children and grandchildren were always first for him. They shared him with us, wrote Campbell. Art Phillips could not have been a better friend. From the first day I met him when he was an alderman just elected on a recount until the last day I saw him, he was encouraging and positive. Art could always see a way forward. One of my fondest memories of him is seeing him sit and look out his window at the city he helped create and knowing he was thinking about how to make it better for all of us

In a statement released Friday, Mayor Gregor Robertson noted: With todays passing of Art Phillips, Vancouver has lost a visionary leader and citizen who made an indelible mark on the city. He helped shape Vancouver through his vision and commitment to public service. He was a champion of livability and inclusivity.

The city presented Phillips with a Freedom of the City Award in July 2010 to recognize his significant contributions to Vancouver and its citizens.

Premier Christy Clark also released a statement on Phillips death.

Vancouver has lost one of its greatest city builders and elder statesmen in Art Phillips, Clark said in part. A gentleman in every sense of the word, Art was concerned with improving the quality of life in Vancouver. As mayor, he was a transformational leader who helped make one of Canadas great cities the envy of the world

As of Monday morning, Baker had yet to hear of plans for a public memorial service.

He is his own memorial, said Baker. He has left us with such great memories.

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