The Revd. Gwen W Sears is a friend and former colleague. She ‘phoned today to let me know that Philip Foster Desch had passed from this life at aged 90. The lovely and wise Claudia Curry also called.
Phil Desch was a member of St. Stephen’s Parish in Pittsfield, MA. I can say, with no reservations, that he was beloved by all.
Phil grew up in Wisconsin. He was proud to tell one and all that he was adopted. He worked for the General Electric Company in Schenectady, NY and in Pittsfield, MA.
Phil never married.He shared a home with his mother Lillian Desch. She had passed before I became Rector at St. Stephen’s, but from every account they had a delightful and gracious mother/son relationship.
Phil had already retired by 1984 when I moved to Pittsfield. He had a lovely home on William Street. He was active in retirement as Board member of the Visiting Nurses Association. I recognised his skills and wisdom and asked him to join our Vestry. He agreed, and soon became the Junior Warden, with especial responsibility for the buildings.
That led to a most remarkable partnership between Phil and the parish. After his term as Junior Warden he became the head of the Property Committee, and he made this a six mornings a week ministry. We gave him a desk in the parish office – a desk at which he sat every morning except Sundays.
He enabled so many wonderful improvements to the buildings (and was more than generous in his monetary gifts to property repairs and renovations). With Phil in place I never had to worry or fret about property issues. He took care of it all!
I am supposing that Phil began this ministry in about 1988. He was faithful to it until just a few months ago.
But it was more than about property. Phil became a fixture in the parish office, where his wry humour and liberal politics enlivened our lives. And a couple of families (the Currys and the Sulocks) adopted Phil as an honorary father and grandfather.
I have more memories of Phil than you would care to hear.
But here are a few of them.
1. Phil loved his late afternoon/early evening martinis.
2. One of our sextons (John Stockley) always referred to Phil as “Doc”. Hence we often called Phil “Dr. Desch”. He would grin and say “yes, I am the house Doctor” (a reference to his role as the expert on property issues).
3. Phil enjoyed an American candy called “Nips”. We always made sure that there was a box of these candies in his desk drawer. Phil would grin and say “do join me for a nip”.
4. He always sat in the front row of Church on the “Gospel side”. On my most recent visit back to St. Stephen’s (2007) I made certain to sit in that pew alongside Phil, and Jim and Dorothy Sammons.
5. Immediately adjoining St. Stephen’s church on Allen Street in Pittsfield is the old fire station. After being derelict for many years the building was purchased and renovated by the Berkshire Bank. This bank retained the exterior of the building with its stone engraved sign “PFD” (i.e. Pittsfield Fire Department). Phil Desch insisted that the “PFD” referred to him “Phillip Foster Desch”.
6. Phil and I would always celebrate Bastille Day (Lord knows why) – and listen to the exciting musical arrangement of the "La Marseillaise" by Hector Berlioz.
7. He had some catch phrases. One was “Excelsior” and/or “Onward and Upward”.
8. But it took Gwen Sears to remind me of Phil’s most famous and frequent line. When any of us asked: “how are you today Phil?’ he would invariably reply “never better”.
9. Gwen and I agreed that the most fitting epitaph for our beloved Phil is “never better”.