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Finding His Jerusalem

Finding His Jerusalem

Don Phillips ’54 on what inspires him to give, Mississippi College as a mission field, and the importance of not being nosy

“In Matthew chapter 28, Jesus tells his disciples to go and minister in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the outermost parts of the earth,” Don Phillips says. “Mississippi College has been my Jerusalem.”

The new MC president's home

There are mission fields around the world, but I feel I’m just as involved in mission work here. MC provides a caring, Christian environment for young people and teaches them lessons that will serve them for a lifetime. That is an important mission.”

For nearly six decades, the Mississippi College community has been blessed by Don Phillips’ loyalty, leadership, and generosity. In 2014, the rest of Mississippi realized the magnitude of Phillips’ philanthropic efforts when the Mississippi chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals named Don Phillips its Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year. The award honored the person in Mississippi who has worked the hardest and given the most of himself for the benefit of others.

“We treasure the extraordinary service that Dr. Don Phillips provides as an influential leader at Mississippi College,” says MC President Lee Royce. “Don has worked tirelessly for many years to raise money to build student scholarships, strengthen the university’s endowment, grow academic programs, and construct campus facilities. We applaud the Association of Fundraising Professionals for selecting Don Phillips as its Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year. He is certainly an excellent choice for this prestigious statewide honor.”

Phillips has built a long and storied history of service to his alma mater, including work as a trustee and as a member of no less than 11 boards and committees at Mississippi College alone. Phillips was instrumental in the formation of the MC Foundation, an organization that manages the MC endowment fund and engages in fundraising activities. Phillips has served as chairman of the Foundation’s board since its establishment in the early 2000s, prompting him to joke that his role as chairman is “like a Supreme Court appointment – it’s a lifetime position.”

Phillips served as chair of the steering committee for MC’s Growing the Vision campaign, which began as a drive to raise $65 million for facilities, programs, and scholarships and concluded by raising more than $87 million. He has played leadership roles with the annual MC athletic dinner and spring scholarship banquet, as well as co-chairing the Circle of Champions committee and serving on the Sports Hall of Fame selection committee. Phillips has also been active in recruiting efforts for Mississippi College, encouraging dozens of young people to attend MC.

“When you retire, you retire not only from something, but to something. That has been my experience here at Mississippi College,” Phillips says. “Sometimes I joke that I need to go back to work so I can take weekends off.

 “The biggest challenge has sometimes been realizing when I’m not needed. There’s a fine line between being engaged and being nosy,” Phillips says with a chuckle. “Over the years, I’ve tried my hardest to be of service and to avoid the nosy part. I try not to overstep the line or interfere with the affairs of the school, and I’m very careful not to offer more help than MC is seeking.”

“Don Phillips is a superb businessman who is dedicated to giving back and creating opportunities for others. He embodies the best qualities of the terms ‘Christian gentleman’ and ‘philanthropist.’ Mississippi College is so very proud to call him one of our most outstanding alumni.”

-Ron Howard, Mississippi College Vice President for Academic Affairs 

Phillips’ latest gift led to the construction of a new landmark on the Mississippi College campus. He and his wife, Sue, made the generous lead gift for the construction of the new president’s house. Appropriately christened “the Don and Sue Phillips House,” the gracious, two-story home was dedicated last fall.

“There’s a country music song that says, ‘It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you. It’s what you leave behind you when you go,’” Phillips says. “My wife and I felt this new home would be a lasting benefit for MC, and also for the city of Clinton, for many years to come.”

The Phillips File

Phillips came from a humble background, graduating from Gore Springs (Mississippi) High School in a class of just 14 members before enrolling in Holmes Community College, where he played on championship basketball and baseball teams and was voted Mr. Holmes Community College. Phillips continued to play basketball after enrolling in Mississippi College as an accounting major. Phillips was drawn to MC by the university’s Christian values and personal attention to every student.

“You are somebody at MC. Every student is important to the university,” Phillips says. “I don’t know anyone who has gone to school at MC and didn’t come away a better person.”

Following his MC graduation, Phillips taught and coached at the high school and community college levels before launching an impressive business career. He spent 29 years with International Minerals and Chemical Corp., where he served as president of the company’s industry group and of its animal health products company, Pittman- Moore. Phillips served on the boards of directors of several major companies in the United States and Canada, where he quickly became known for his leadership skills and business acumen.

“There’s a country music song that says, ‘It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you. It’s what you leave behind you when you go.’” My wife and I felt this new home would be a lasting benefit for MC, and also for the city of Clinton, for many years to come.”

-Don Phillips

In addition to his efforts on behalf of Mississippi College, Phillips has served as a tireless volunteer for multiple professional, civic, and charitable groups. His leadership roles at his original alma mater, Holmes Community College, include service as the president of the board of the Holmes Community College Foundation, on the executive committee of the alumni association, and as the chair of the steering committee for an $11 million capital campaign.

Phillips has also put his skills and experience in educational leadership to work as a member of the boards of trustees of Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Lake Forest, Illinois, Graduate School of Business. Other organizations that have benefitted from Phillips’ leadership skills include the Mynelle Gardens Botanical Society, R.E.A.L. Christian Foundation, and Community Place Nursing Home. Phillips is a deacon at First Baptist Church Jackson.

In recognition of his outstanding and unfailing service to MC, the university presented Phillips with an honorary doctorate. He also holds an MBA from the University of Mississippi.

Phillips is proud of the strides MC has made over the years, including building a campus whose facilities he describes as “not taking a back seat to those of any university, anywhere” and launching new programs, including the physician assistant program, that “weren’t even a dream when I was a student here.” But while he is impressed with the many enhancements to MC, Phillips is even more impressed that the strong commitment to Christian principles upon which MC was founded have remained the same. In addition to receiving his business education, Phillips is grateful for the lasting life lessons learned at MC that reached far beyond the classroom, and for finding in Mississippi College his own Jerusalem.

“At Mississippi College, I saw that regardless of what you do or where you are in your own life, you can make a difference for the good of others,” Phillips says. “Those times when I have been in a position where I could help Mississippi College, I have considered it a privilege to do so. Over the years, what was once my desire to become a part of MC has changed to MC becoming a part of me.”