M. Paul Phillips

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M. Paul Phillips

Major Paul Phillips (born December 20, 1873 in Baltimore, Maryland; died September 2, 1925 in Birmingham) was president of the Steel City Lumber Company and vice-president of the first Birmingham Parks and Recreation Board.

Phillips was the son of Jacob Cannon Phillips, a farmer in Salisbury, Maryland, and his wife, the former Catherine Jackson, sister of Governor Elihu Emory Jackson and U.S. Representative William Humphreys Jackson. He was educated in Salisbury and Baltimore and began his career working as a runner for the Continental National Bank there, succeeding in earning promotion to positions of greater responsibility. In 1901 he moved to Elkins, West Virginia where he served as treasurer for the Davis Trust Company under U.S. Senators Henry Gassaway Davis and Stephen B. Elkins.

Phillips came to Birmingham in 1905 and followed his uncles into the lumber business by founding the Steel City Lumber Company on January 1, 1907. His practice of involving his associates in the management and administration of the company was unusual for the time. The company was formally incorporated with Arthur Phillips and William Turpin in February 1910 with $30,000 in capital. By 1913 its capitalization had increased to $50,000. In 1918 it reported more than $1.5 million in business transactions.

Phillips married Clyde Smith, daughter of Walton Smith in Birmingham on January 20, 1915.

Through his involvement in the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham, Phillips became a champion for the establishment of a park system for Birmingham. He corresponded with nationally-known park planner Frederick Law Olmsted Jr and his committee successfully lobbied the Alabama State Legislature to pass a law allowing Birmingham to establish a park board. When it was founded, he was a charter member and vice president, and also chair of the finance committee.

The new board commissioned the Olmsted Brothers landscape architects of Brookline, Massachusetts to survey the city's existing parks and potential park sites and to make recommendations for the development of park areas for the benefit of residents. The result, entitled "A Park System for Birmingham", was published by the board on May 1, 1925. While supportive of the idea of creating a governmental center around Woodrow Wilson Park, Phillips opposed the proposal to construct a Birmingham Public Library within the park's boundaries.

Phillips was also a member of the Southern Club, the Allied Arts Club, and the Birmingham Country Club, as well as the Knights Templar and Shriner orders of Freemasons. He was a member of the board of stewards and a Sunday School teacher at South Highlands Methodist Church. Phillips donated $50,000 to the library at Birmingham-Souhern College, which was named the M. Paul Phillips Library in his honor when it was constructed in 1924. He also furnished funds, anonymously, for chimes at South Highlands Methodist and for churches in Salisbury, in honor of his parents.

In 1924 Phillips' health began to fail. He undertook an extensive voyage to Europe with Guy Snavely in hopes of improving his strength. In the summer of 1925 Phillips fell ill again. He sought special treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in August. Two weeks after he returned home, Phillips was found in the throes of an apparent heart attack by a servant at his home early on the morning of September 2, 1925. Doctor Cunningham Wilson was summoned to attend to him, but could not save his life. At the time of his death his wife, Clyde, was being treated the Stockbridge Institute for the Study and Treatment of Psychoneuroses in Stockridge, Massachusetts.

Phillips was interred at Elmwood Cemetery. Flags at Birmingham parks were lowered to half-staff following news of his death.


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