Art Phillips - City Father With A Mean Hook ShotFriday, April 26, 2013
In 1991 I went to the memorial services for Harvey Southam at Christ Church Cathedral. I remember that day distinctly because the night before suffering a bout of insomnia I knew that I had to go. I sat as far back as it was possible, I could have rested my head on the back wall of the church. An Anglican minister spoke of summers at Qualicum Beach and of other events I knew were in the process of becoming past history for our young city of Vancouver. I did not spot any people of colour, people from the Indian Subcontinent nor anybody from the Far East. This was one of the last events that our city would host to what were the former powerful decision makers of our city and province. I thought that some day anthropologists would cite that day as the changing of the guard. After the service Malcolm Parry, Nick Hills, the very English Editor-in-Chief of the Vancouver Sun and a few others and I went across the street to the Hotel Vancouver for drinks.
Today I returned not to Christ Church Cathedral but to the now Fairmont Hotel Vancouver for a warm and almost happy celebratory memorial service for our former mayor, Arthur Phillips.
As I entered the huge ballroom I spotted, little by little at least 50 people I have photographed in the past. I noted that there was an obvious but very small increase in the ethnic mix. I spotted Vancouver Police Chief Constable Jim Chu and Faye Leung, the Vancouver Hat Lady. If there were more non-Caucasians I did not notice them.
Again I felt, the day before that I had to go. I had a similar feeling that it was a Harvey Southam kind of defining day. I ran into the very tall lawyer and entrepreneur, former publisher of Vancouver Magazine and Equity Magazine, Ronald Stern. I told him of that Qualicum Beach summers of the past and that it was a sad occasion for Vancouver with the loss of Art Phillips. Stern has the talent for going straight for the jugular and said, “These events are not really similar, Harvey was so young!”
The speakers were excellent but in particular Justice Grant Burnyeat, Q.C.’s listing of Art Phillips’s achievements as mayor of Vancouver was astounding as most of his initial goals were all realized. We now have politicians who give us campaign promises that few of us believe will be carried out. It seems that Phillips was part of a rosier, more honest and less cynical Vancouver. He was a mayor with lots of class.
Phillips’s wife Carole Taylor told us that Phillips’s inaugural speech should be read by all of us. His promises and goals as Burnyeat had mentioned were all realized. Digesting such a speech might help straighten our present generation of politicians.
I left the memorial saddened and when I got home I found my wife Rosemary tutoring our 15 year-old granddaughter Rebecca in math. I had to tell Rebecca where I had been and what I had seen. But knowing that I would soon lose her attention I said something brief like this:
“Like any city in the world, Vancouver has its social classes. It has rich people, a middle class and poor people. In this 21st century those classes are mostly separate. Lawyers talk to lawyers and politicians to politicians. Access for the average person is denied to most stratospheric social circles. But Vancouver, to your grandfather the photographer, has given him access to everything and everybody. I once was asked by Harvey Southam to shoot a meeting at the Bentall Centre. He told me, ‘Alex we are going to decide on a chancellor for Simon Fraser.’ I have never been denied access. I have been made to feel part of this which is really not only your city, but finally mine, too. And I never felt more part of this city as I heard people talk about Art Phillips, a man I was lucky to have met and photographed, and perhaps like summers in Qualicum will be a history/man that will not be repeated.”
Our city has changed. I almost did not recognize those men I had photographed so long ago. Like me they are old.