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In Memoriam: Emeritus Professor of Botany Edwin Phillips

Emeritus Professor of Botany Edwin Allan Phillips
Emeritus Professor of Botany Edwin Allen Phillips in a greenhouse

Emeritus Professor of Botany Edwin Allen Phillips died on October 28, 2013, at age 98. 

A graduate of Colgate University, Ed Phillips earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Michigan and then went on to teach high school, serve in World War II, and return briefly to his alma mater as an instructor before joining the Pomona College faculty in 1948.  Over the next three decades he wrote several books, including Methods of Vegetation Study (1959), Field Ecology (1964), and the textbook Basic Ideas in Biology (1970), as well as numerous articles; garnered several National Science Foundation grants; and chaired the Department of Botany from 1973 to 1977.

Based on his observations of ecology in Africa, he was “one of the first American botanists to suggest that brushfires play a useful role in the ecology of arid lands,” according to a 1996 article in the Pomona College Magazine. Despite his accomplishments as a researcher and administrator, however, teaching remained his first love, and his contributions were honored with a Wig Distinguished Professorship in 1966.

Professor Phillips retired as the Henry Kirke White Bent Professor of Botany in 1980, a few years after the Botany Department was merged into the Biology Department, but served on the Emeriti Committee and continued to join botany alumni from the 1940s through the 1970s on annual outings to places like Point Reyes, Death Valley and Cachuma Lake into his late nineties. According to a 2011 Pomona College Magazine article about the trips, upwards of 75 Sagehens attended at least one of the gatherings over the years, and Professor Phillips theorized that the special bond among botany majors comes from the field trips they attended during their college years.

He is survived by his daughter and son-in-law Ellen and Dale Litney and daughter Nancy Phillips; grandchildren Diana Hutzell and husband Steve, E. Dale Litney, and Phillip Naslund; and great-grandchildren Alexandra Hutzell, Ryan Hutzell, Payton Litney, and Sydney Litney.  The family does not plan to hold a memorial service.