Valerie Louise Phillips, major gifts officer and leadership circle manager for radio stations KUT and KUTX, died of breast cancer Tuesday at age 57, leaving a void in Austin's political and philanthropic communities.|
"The world is going to be much more boring without Valerie," said her friend Ruth Pennebaker. "She was one of the strongest, funniest women I've ever known in my life."
The Fort Worth native graduated from the University of Texas and went to work for the consulting and polling firm George Shipley and Associates, where her longtime partner Bob Mann first met her.
"There was this blonde, 23 years old and way out of my league," Mann said. "She was gorgeous and smart and already politically savvy, but I started moving on her. I got her to go to dinner and it was a disaster. I spilled a bottle of wine on her silk dress."
Despite that inauspicious beginning, the two were together for most of the next 33 years. She spent about 20 years in Washington working in a variety of capacities, including work for U.S. Rep. Marvin Leath and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She established her own consulting firm, Valerie Phillips & Associates, in 1987 and was deputy finance director for Al Gore's 1988 presidential campaign.
She returned to Texas and the state's civic life in the 1990s, fundraising for John Sharp's race for lieutenant governor as well as joining Central Texas Clean Cities, the Texas Civil Rights Project and later KUT, her tenure at which Mann said she often called "the most exciting and satisfying years of my professional life."
"She was a very special person," said Stewart Vanderwilt, the stations' director and general manager. "She made it her focus to make other people feel special and it wasn't just a professional tic. It was the way she was."
"She would have hated that she can't vote in the next election," Pennebaker said.
Phillips assumed the role of "adopted mother" to Mann's daughter, now Liz Stewart. Survivors also include sisters Beth Phillips Engelhardt and Mary Phillips-Kalvitz of Fort Worth.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Monday at St. John's United Methodist Church at 2140 Allandale Rd. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to KUT or Hospice Austin.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Jan. 10, 2014