David F. Phillips (1944–2020)

This is what David’s brother Christopher wrote on the evening following David’s death on the morning of March 26.

So —

Just to let you know that my brother David has left us.  He died this morning in San Francisco.  He was 75.

He had been in the hospital for a confluence of problems (nothing to do with this current virus).  After a rough patch last night, they made him very comfortable and it seems to have been a smooth passage.  So he is on the Great Adventure, which, with his Buddhist training, is how he thought of it.  He always got the most out of all his travels — and what journey is more fascinating or important than this one?

He wanted cremation and eventually to be scattered (illegally) in San Francisco Bay.  I promised him to refrain from eating local sushi for at least 30 days thereafter, and we agreed this was a good idea.  A portion of the ashes is going to be taken India to be committed to the Ganges by whichever member of the family gets there first.

It’s still a bit hard to believe — though being busy with a million details helps a lot.  It’s like the landscape of my world has changed, or they took a piece of furniture out of the room, or a constellation out of the sky, or something.  For me, these things are a lot about that kind of disorientation.  How to make sense of it all?  Who am I now, and what’s where, as I go forward?  Truly he was one of my greatest spiritual guides and teachers.

I’m doing well.  Very tired after last night, but fine.

As one of his friends said to me today, “David wins, hands down, the Reader’s Digest prize for ’The World’s Most Unforgettable Person.’”  If you want to explore, look at his Website — Radbash.com (the name is explained there).  Just the many tables of contents in the drop-down menus ALONE are eye-popping.  Travelogues galore, essays and poems on everything you can imagine, an autobiography, even a list of imaginary laws he dreamed up!  It is like a one-man living museum of ideas, knowledge and wisdom.  You could spend years just reading that material.

Plus, he actually completed his planned books and articles about heraldry.  His history of the Double Eagle symbol and his “Japanese Heraldry and Heraldic Flags” are the definitive works on the subject, as is his “Emblems of the Indian States,” covering the iconography of the numerous indigenous entities before independence.  For these heavily illustrated books he was the designer as well as the author or editor: Most of the images came from his own vast library.  He also supervised and edited the translation and publication of many more books with the Flag Heritage Foundation (for whom he just placed a priceless manuscript in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam with a facsimile publication deal).  Two amazing collections of children’s stories and poems are being considered now by an agent, and I think they could become the next “Winnie-the-Pooh” and “Siddhartha” rolled into one.  And he edited and placed a memoir of one of his closest friends, Rosemary Leary (Tim’s wife), to be published later this year.  Additional projects are completed, ready to be published.

When his health really began to falter, he took the attitude, “Better get busy.”  And he did, knocking off big projects one after the other.  His collections of heraldry books and historical atlases are among the finest in America in private hands.  His personal papers are going to join the Phillips Family Papers at the Yale University Manuscripts and Archives Library, and he was about to ship that collection to New Haven at the time of his death.

From earliest days, I think David saw his ideal future as living in a large house filled with books.  And that’s exactly what he attained in San Francisco, with a view of the Pacific out the window.

So that’s my news.  I’m at my place in Sarasota, Fla.  As I say, doing well (though not up to answering phone calls or emails for the time being).  And I’m very sad.  Ultimately it boils down to this:  He’s fine.  We’re not.  We miss the person.  And so I shall.

Love to all,


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