Mason Phelps(1925 - 2013)


Mason Phelps passed away at his home in La Jolla, California on Saturday April 13, 2013, at the age of 88. He is predeceased by his parents, Mason Elliott Phelps and Louise Lamb Phelps Cowles, and his son, Taylor Phelps.
Mason is lovingly remembered by his wife of 32 years, Elizabeth, of Monessen, PA; sister Marian Phelps Pawlick of Lake Forest, IL; son Mason Phelps Jr. of Wellington, FL; daughter Evans Phelps of Nevada City, CA; step-daughters Maria Toglia of Newtown Square, PA and Kristen D'Alessio of Los Angeles, CA; and many grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Mason was born in Evanston, Illinois on January 18, 1925. He attended Phillips Andover Academy before joining the U.S. Marine Corps on January 13, 1943 and deploying to the Pacific Theater on the battleship USS Indiana. When he returned home from World War II in November of 1945, he attended Yale University and graduated in the class of 1948. He went to work in the boiler room of the family business, Pheoll Manufacturing in Chicago, from where he worked himself up to Chief Executive Officer. In the early 1950s, Mason acquired Voi-Shan Industries (VSI), an aircraft fastener manufacturing company in Los Angeles, and moved with the business to Pasadena, CA. Mason served as CEO and Chairman of the Board of VSI from 1953 to 1980. He brightened the lives of thousands of employees with his personal dedication to the company and his leveling sense of humor. In 1980 Fairchild Industries acquired VSI and Mason remained as Senior Vice President and Director of Fairchild through 1981 before retiring in 1982. In 1985, Mason and Elizabeth moved to La Jolla, CA.
Throughout his life, Mason passionately pursued a broad variety of disparate interests and activities. His unquenchable intellectual curiosity and genuine delight in human interaction drove him to form innumerable deep and lasting relationships that he cherished and nurtured all his life. While he loved exploring and experiencing all the world had to offer-skiing the mountains of Colorado and Canada, trekking the Himalayas, big game fishing in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans among many other adventures, he was just as happy at home amongst loved ones engaging in lively, stimulating conversation. He had a gift for human engagement and found something of interest in people from all walks of life. No matter his audience, be it factory worker or President of the United States, Mason was consistent in character. His accumulated wisdom and generous nature allowed him to have a significant impact on all who came to know him.
Mason's interest in the world and desire to make a difference led to his dedicated involvement a number of non-profit organizations both before and after his retirement from business. A personal relationship with Louis Leakey led to Mason becoming a lifetime trustee of the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation in 1976, serving as it's President from 1988 to 1992. In retirement Mason broadened and cultivated his love of art, compiling with Elizabeth an exquisite and highly personal collection reflecting their shared experiences and sensibilities. His interest in art also led to his being a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego from 1986 to the present and President from 1991 to 1993 as well as a lifetime trustee of the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego since its inception. He served as trustee of the La Jolla Playhouse from 1984 to 1990 and President from 1989 to 1990. Mason also notably served as a Director of Marshall Industries from 1962 to 1990 and Director of Clow Corporation from 1970 to 1985.
Mason, above all, loved his family and friends. Mason and Elizabeth's love for and dedication to one another was absolute and unwavering. From this foundation, he served as mentor, sounding board and occasional foil to his sister, children, cousins, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a great many friends. Beneath his playfully gruff and boisterous exterior, he was principled, loyal, generous, compassionate and real. His love of life was infectious and ever-present. He was simply the most fun guy to be around.
A true exemplar of the greatest generation, Mason left a large and lasting footprint on the world. He will be profoundly missed by the many people who loved and admired him and whose lives he so enriched.

Published in Pasadena Star-News on May 5, 2013