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James William "Bill" Phillips

Obituary for James William "Bill" Phillips

February 21, 1934 - August 30, 2021
Murray, Kentucky | Age 87


James William "Bill" Phillips passed away on August 30, 2021. Born in Murray, KY to Leon and Jessie Phillips on February 21, 1934, Bill moved to Detroit, MI with his parents and sister in 1935.
A 1952 graduate of Highland Park High School in Detroit, MI, Bill attended the University of Michigan, studying economics. Upon graduation in 1956, he wanted to experience the famed California sunshine, and moved to Hollywood and was employed by a local insurance company. However, this did not last long, as In 1957 he was drafted into the U.S. Army and was sent to Frankfurt, Germany. Since he could type and take dictation, he spent his brief military career working in HQ administration. After an honorable discharge, he spent time touring Germany and ultimately returned to Detroit in 1959 and went to the Detroit College of Law. Upon graduation, and passing the Michigan Bar Exam, he began his law practice with a small Detroit law firm.
He met and fell in love with Mickey Volker, marrying her in 1963. She had two young children from a prior marriage, and Bill formerly adopted them as his own. Shortly after, the new family moved to New Orleans, LA where Bill attended Loyola University, wanting to practice maritime law, passing the Louisiana Bar and joining a firm specializing in legal services for shipping companies in the busy port city. A former law school colleague contacted him with a proposition to partner in a new law firm, and Bill was intrigued. In 1965 the family moved to California and Bill passed his third bar examination and practiced law in his own brand-new firm, which had been his dream. He and Mickey had their third child soon after arriving. Bill was recognized for his skill in a variety of areas of the law by city officials, and was asked to serve as City Attorney. He served as City Attorney in Lomita and Arcadia, CA.
Although engaged in a successful law career in California, Bill looked back fondly on his childhood home, reflecting on the wonderful sense of community and more relaxed atmosphere of Murray. He wanted to make sure his children had the opportunity to grow up in a place where neighbors, friends, and family are so important. In 1976 he and his wife and three children moved to Murray, Ky. After passing the bar examinations in Kentucky and Tennessee, he set up a private law practice and served as City Attorney of Murray and president of the Rotary Association. Seeing a need at the time, he became a bankruptcy specialist, helping members of the community through some of their most difficult times. Often, due to his clients' circumstances, he worked without payment, asking only for them to pay when they were back on their feet. He was well known in the downtown area, shaking hands with almost all guests at Rudy's, where he would frequently go to enjoy a cup of coffee.
Soon after arriving in Murray, he helped a committee to found The Playhouse in the Park Community Theater. Thus, Bill became a part-time actor and a lover of the theater, consistently performing in well over 100 plays in Murray and Paducah. He was truly a renaissance man, able to play piano, organ, accordion, and many other instruments, as well as a diligent student of philosophy and the arts. He wrote plays, created his own one-man show, and was the occasional stand-in minister at the South Pleasant Grove Methodist Church. Unfortunately, he and Mickey parted ways after 35 years of marriage, and Bill continued his law practice and theatrical endeavors and other activities. In 1999, he met and fell in love with Nancy Kremer Christensen, who was also involved in the theater. They married and Bill and retired from his law practice, the two of them moving to her previous home of Austin, TX where Bill could work as a full-time actor. While in Austin, he performed in three Broadway shows, a professional Shakespeare company, and numerous amateur theaters.
In 2008 he retired to his mother's family's land outside of Murray, Ky. As beloved "Grandpa Bill" he traveled to see grandchildren and entertained them when they came to the farm.
Bill was an adventurer who sailed, flew airplanes, skied, scuba-dived, and rode motorcycles. He and Nancy traveled extensively and enjoyed being part of their church and Murray civic organizations. To his 3 children, 6 grandchildren, 6 great grandchildren and to Nancy's children and grandchildren, he will be remembered for his humor and his love of life. To his community he will be remembered for his professional competence as a lawyer, civic leader, and an actor.
A funeral service will be held at South Pleasant Grove Methodist Church on September 11, 2021 at 2:00 pm. A celebration of Bill's life will be held after the service in the Fellowship Hall and outdoors on the grounds of the church. His favorite show tunes will be performed by the talented singers of The Playhouse in the Park. Expressions of sympathy can be made to the Playhouse in the Park in honor of Bill, 701 Gil Hopson Drive, Murray, Kentucky 42071.
In order to ensure the safety of all who attend the service or celebration, we ask that all guests wear masks. Social distancing will be observed both inside the church and in the gym.
Online condolences can be made at,

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  • Playhouse in the Park in honor of Bill
    701 Gil Hopson Drive
    Murray, KY 42071

Arrangements By

J. H. Churchill Funeral Home

201 S. 3rd Street
Murray, KY 42071
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