Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Philip James Hillery, May 10, 1958-February 25, 2010

Dr. Fish's Evangelism 101, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I arrived to class 15 minutes early and there was one seat left. Front row, to the left of the class, next to a tall irish-looking guy in a blue sweater. He asked for a first date after New Testament Greek. He took me to Denny's. I was a broke seminary student eating lots of ramen noodles and beans, so the meal tasted fabulous. We sat at the table for over three hours, talking about life, travel, adventures and God.

Philip married me on December 21, 1991 at the age of 33 at James Avenue Baptist Church. By that time he had played Lacrosse at Madison High School in Madison, New Jersey. One year he was high scoring player on his team one year and loved the sport. He tried college in Baltimore and hated it, so spent a semester or two studying at the County College of Morris, doing construction work and landscaping then sought out Roanoke College.

One of his first memories at Roanoke College was an evening at the campus pub, the Cavern. They were drinking some beer and playing pool when a young woman came up to Philip, and in a very distinctive drawl asked, "Are you a Yankee?" For a split second he preened and thought, wow, how did she know I always wanted to be a New York Yankee?

At Roanoke College, Philip met Lynne Florin and many other dear friends, loving his new life in the South, getting his BA in Fine Arts.

Philip studied in Stella Adler Studio and School of Acting in New York City. He traveled across the midwest doing children's theater bringing crazy life to the story of Alexander Graham Bell. He acted in several plays in Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut. He had the opportunity to housesit for Hurd Hatfield in his old Irish manor house outside County Cork for 9 month and acted in some theater there as well. At some point in all this period Philip went West with two of his buddies to work in the Oklahoma oil fields. You will have to speak to John Ritter and Bobby Smith to hear more about their adventures!

While in Connecticut, Philip decided to join the army. His father was a vet, part of the 5th Armored Division that liberated Luxembourg in WWII. Philip had traveled with his father to Luxembourg and Belgium a couple or three times to be honored. He was so proud of his dad and loved WWII history. The army wouldn't take him because of his bad heart due to a childhood fever, but at that time, when he was trying to join, a Gideon gave him a pocket New Testament. Growing up Catholic, Philip attended church, but upon receiving that Bible he realized he had never read one. After acting in several Shakespearean play he was properly prepared to grasp the King James Version and read the whole book.

This decision completely altered the course of his life.

An acting friend invited him to move to Hollywood. There Philip got hooked up with a B movie company and acted in many "hits" like The Deadly Reactor- where Philip played a sheriff of a small western town overrun by a biker gang after a nuclear bomb hit. His role is memorable! He also fell into his friend's catering job for this same film company. Just ask me for some very funny stories!

At this point he began to look for a church as he grew in his Christian life. Somehow he ended at Hollywood Presbyterian, pastored by Lloyd Ogilvie. That church experience was life changing for Philip. From that church he went out to several mission trips in Mexico, helping in orphanages. As he worked doing reconstruction on old houses he began to see that the film world was "vanity, vanity." He decided to further his education at Fuller Theological Seminary. However, Philip grew to hate traffic in California and jumped at the opportunity to help move his friend Logan Craft to Dallas, Texas. There Philip visited to beautiful campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and promptly transferred.

When Philip was 12 years old he walked out of St. Vincent's one Sunday morning and thought he heard God tell him to be a priest. He thought that was weird and said that even at that point he liked girls and couldn't become a priest if that meant not getting married!

So he moved to Fort Worth and there we met and he received a Masters of Divinity and was ordained to preach at our dear church, Southcliff Baptist Church.

Philip spent a summer on mission in Harlingen, Texas, through the Rio Grande River Ministry. After he graduated from seminary, we, and our sweet little baby Thomas went to Tokuyama, Japan for two years with the International Mission Board. Philip taught English Bible classes and preached and made many friends. He was especially loved by Mr. Takehara who visited us in Texas several times.

Philip served as a chaplain in Central Texas at Inks Lake State Park when Patrick was born. He also served as chaplain in the Tarrant County jails for several years during our days in Fort Worth, Texas. During all those days he did construction work on the side and restored every one of the homes we owned. He even served as assistant lacrosse coach at TCU for a period. In the evenings we would enjoy dinner parties with friends, being regaled with Philip's stories of his limo driving days in NYC, driving Mohammed Ali, Bette Midler and other interesting people. Also his stories of the time he spent working as a bartender in a sushi bar in Manhattan. And his adventures hiking in the Adirondacks. And the time he got locked in a subway tunnel in Paris one night. And the time he and his friends spent the night in a county jail. (was that the time he was driving a little too fast on his motorcycle???)

Maggie came along and Philip was so happy. When we married he said he wanted a big family because of his memories of neighborhood friends. As the chaos and the mess grew with the children I reminded him of that choice!

Philip memorized the entire Gospel of Mark and performed it in churches, parks and in jails. First time I saw him perform I was spellbound. He used all the techniques he learned at Stella Adler to make the scriptures come alive.

Philip ran for political office once when he disagreed with the voting practices of the incumbent who ran unopposed. I was so proud of him. As a result of that race, I believe, the incumbent changed her voting practices.

Philip moved his mother to Texas to take care of her. He moved us all the New Jersey to take care of his dad. He took up work in trading and investments after watching his dad spend years writing Abreast of the Market for the Wall St Journal.

When Rose came along he had even more children to use in his human statue performances. He played with the children, made up hundreds of "batman" stories and read thousands of books. Nora was a happy surprise and Philip was so thankful to have a full quiver of children. He taught them all to pray the Lord's Prayer. He took them hiking. He took them swimming and camping. He was willing to take care of them when I needed a break. Even a two week break last year to serve in India.

I remember when Philip came down to Roanoke for his 25th reunion. He and Thomas stayed with our dear friends, Lynne and Larry Florin. Just a week before, he had discussed how he never wanted to leave his father's home, which we were restoring. Lynne invited Philip to the Church of the Holy Spirit. When he told me he cried all the way through the service I was rather surprised! He would often snooze through a sermon, but never cry! I asked him about the sermon and he said there wasn't one, but that there was a video of Pastor Quigg Lawrence relating the time he got so lost hunting somewhere on Bent Mountain that they had to send out helicopters to find him.

"There is still a place where someone can get lost," he whispered in awe and wonderment after three years of living in northern New Jersey. He came home and told me that as much as he loved our neighbors, our church, Madison Baptist Church, and our home, he wanted us to sell and move to Roanoke, buy a farm, home school, become Anglican and join Church of the Holy Spirit. A couple of weeks later we had a realtor and a few short weeks later we had a contract on our farm.

For years Philip told us the story of one early summer afternoon in Madison. Around 18 years old he sat by a pond down the road from his suburban house, fishing with a friend.

"Some day I want to move to the South and have a farm," he told his friend.

There are many many more stories that would prove to you what a good man Philip was. So many. So many people he loved. So many places and adventures.

He was my friend. He was such a great husband. Never could there be a better human dad. He was human but he was good. Seeking God and loving us, working hard and laughing harder. He taught me the definition of true love, not the Hollywood version as he lived out John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Over and over again he lived out that verse as he served us. I am proud of the choices he made in his life.

We are thankful to have shared in his rich life.

Thank you, God.


Polly said...

A fascinating, beautiful, rich account--what an amazing half-century he spent here on earth, truly *full.* It's heartening to read about how God worked in him and led him down so many paths and to so many places, and let him cast such a wide net, and then led you right down to the farm. But what's even clearer about this is not just the rich, full life of what he did but WHO he was.

Chris said...

Thank you for giving us this view into Philip's life. The man knew how to live; with God and love and family.

LouAnne said...

Ginger, I was so taken by how beautifully and completely you described your amazing husband. You truly gave us a glimpse into an amazing life that was so obviously orchestrated by God's hand. Beautiful. I never had the pleasure of meeting Phillip while he was here, but now I feel that I have and it made me want to glorify God. Thank you for sharing him with us in this way.

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating life, thank you for sharing.

Beth said...

Ginger, thank you for sharing the story of Philip's very full and rich life. What a beautiful tribute to a good and well-loved man of God. It's obvious that he touched many lives in a positive way and the effect he had on those people will live on.

God bless you and your family.

Gary S. Winkler said...

Dear Ginger,
Beautiful memories... Philip was such an inquisitive person. It didn't matter what the subject was whenever we talked, he just wanted to know more. I want to stop by sometime to talk and see the sheep.
Gary W.

Sandra said...

Ginger, thank you so much for sharing this. I wanted so much to be at the funeral so I could hear about Philip's life. This has given me a taste of that. I wish I had known him better, and had heard him tell about his experiences more.

What an amazing man he was. What a blessing to have been his wife.

Debbie Millman said...

I loved reading this. And being a part of your lives for those few short years in NJ. I love you, Ginger! Phillip was richly blessed to have YOU in his life:)....Deb