Wendell Phillips, Baltimore pastor, dies Heart attack claims former delegate, 58

January 30, 1993|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

The Rev. Wendell H. Phillips, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates whose zest for life was accented by his love of motorcycles, died yesterday at his home on Edgewood Road in Northwest Baltimore.

The 58-year-old pastor of Heritage United Church of Christ on Liberty Heights Avenue died in his sleep of a massive heart attack.

Both houses of the Maryland General Assembly, where Mr. Phillips served eight years, adjourned yesterday in his honor.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Phillips had been pastor of his church for 29 years. In 1984 he served as president of Baltimore's Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, and he was a co-founder of BUILD, Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development.

In recent years, he had worked to promote AIDS-prevention education and better care of persons with the disease. He also had worked with organizations devoted to improving conditions for prison inmates.

"He left many things for us. He was a giant, a man of all men," said his best friend, George Guest, one of Heritage Church's 100 founding members.

Stunned by the sudden loss, Mr. Guest recalled that his friend had occasionally observed that "none of us knows the day or the hour of our calling."

A burly, bearded man of great humor, Mr. Phillips was elected to the House of Delegates in 1979, where his motorcycle and black leather jacket made him an instant celebrity.

"He'd zoom by on his Harley-Davidson. It was funny seeing preacher on a motorcycle," said Del. Jim Campbell, D-Baltimore. "But the motorcycle just underscored his passion for life. He had a lot of energy and just loved people, all people, black and white. He spent his life caring."

From the outset, Mr. Phillips' colleagues in the House recognized they had been joined by a passionate and persuasive advocate for the poor and civil rights and one who opposed the death penalty.

Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, called him "one of the voices of conscience in this body. He was one of the people who could sway you, change your view. He could change minds on a bill on the floor. And there are not many people who can do that. You would pay attention when he spoke."

In 1984, Mr. Phillips became the first black to head the city's House delegation in Annapolis, and his reputation for speaking out forcefully suggested to some the likelihood of friction with Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Mr. Phillips quickly defused that situation, however, and the two men worked well together.

"The city of Baltimore has truly lost a friend," the governor said yesterday through his press secretary, Page W. Boinest. "He was a strong advocate of the city, and he cared deeply about people."

Mr. Phillips served in the House of Delegates from 1979 to 1987 and was a member of the committee on Constitutional and Administrative Law.

His political career included an unsuccessful race for Congress in 1986 and a failed bid for the state Senate in 1990.

Mr. Phillips was a member of the Governor's Advisory Board of the Shelter Network, of Project P.L.A.S.E. and the Prisoner's Aid Society board of directors.

He graduated from Virginia Union University in 1956 and Colgate Rochester Divinity School in 1961. He also did graduate study at Howard University in Washington.

He is survived by his wife, Dorothy; a son, Wendell, of Baltimore; two brothers, Treadwell, of Columbia, and Allison, of Cleveland, Ohio; and a sister, Marie Carey, of Chicago.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete yesterday.

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