William Harper Phillips, Jr. was born in San Francisco, the son of William H. and Anna Phillips.
Young William learned to swim at Mokulea Beach on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, in the early 1930s. His family then moved to the Philippine Islands in 1938 and settled in Manila. After General Douglas MacArthur declared Manila an “Open City” the family was picked up by the Japanese and transported to Santo Tomas internment camp where they spent the next 3 years (1942-1945) as prisoners of war. His father was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and was serving in the Southwest Theatre (Philippine Islands) at the time of their capture.
His future wife, Ellen Spencer Thomas, and Bill met at the Santo Tomas internment camp. They were married in January 1951. He was drafted in October 1951 and was separated from the Army in 1953 as a 1st Lt. of Artillery.
Bill received all of his higher education from the University of California, Berkeley. He finished his B.A. and accepted a position as Instructor at San Francisco State College in the Physical Education Department. He taught physical activity courses and had a winning record as Head Swimming and Water Polo Coach while he finished his M.A. degree at U.C. Berkeley.
In 1959 he returned to U.C. Berkeley to work on his Doctorate in Exercise Physiology. While there he was appointed to the position of Head Swimming and Water Polo Coach. Again he had a winning record. Note: as an undergraduate at Berkeley he made the All American Collegiate Swimming Team and the All Coast Water Polo Team three times. He also coached at U.C. Berkeley between 1959 and 1963. He received his Doctorate (Ed.D.) in 1963.
Dr. Phillips was appointed Assistant Professor of Physical Education at San Diego State College in 1963. He coached water polo and swimming in the sixties. He also taught undergraduate and graduate level courses in physiology of exercise and activity courses in swimming and fitness. Teaching excellence was an attribute during his tenure at San Diego State. His teaching evaluations were consistently high and his own records of athletic achievements made him a role model for many students.
He was committed to scholarly activity which included research and refereed presentations and articles in journals in the area of exercise physiology. He served as Department Chair of Physical Education between 1969 and 1972 and for many years served as Graduate Advisor. He chaired over 30 M.A. theses and had a direct impact on the scholarly effort of many undergraduate and graduate students.
His record of service to San Diego State University (SDSU) was outstanding for both longevity and level of involvement. He joined the SDSU Senate in 1967 and, except for one year on sabbatical leave, served for more than 22 years as an officer or committee member, including two years as Chair. He also served on many standing committees of the California State University Academic Senate for 16 years. His leadership played an important role in establishing the Faculty Early Retirement Program (FERP), the salary savings plan, and the state wide task force examining athletic programs. Another facet of his leadership was participation in the California Faculty Association where he was elected statewide Vice President and President of the SDSU Branch. He was a leader in faculty governance and rights.
Bill was promoted twice and was at the rank of Professor in his later years on the faculty. He retired in 1991 as Professor Emeritus. He and wife Ellen live in the San Diego area and enjoy traveling the world.
The Phillips have three children, sons W. Scott and Mark Kevin, and daughter Kristyn Leigh Koppman. They also have 10 grandchildren.
Bill and his family have led active lives. He climbed most of the 14,000 foot peaks in the Sierras with his wife Ellen and children. In addition he climbed the Matterhorn twice in two days unguided. On the first day he took Ellen and Mark and on the second day he took Scott and a friend from New Zealand. A week later he went to Mont Blanc with Scott and Kristyn. He also climbed Longs Peak, the Grand Teton and Mt. Rainer. All climbs were unguided except for the Teton.
Bill was a member of the San Diego Track Club and ran marathons, 5K and 10K races. He loved the open water swims at La Jolla and Oceanside. As a member of the Coronado and San Diego Master Swim Team he set 20 national age group records (200 to 1650 yards) and 14 age group FINA (the International Swimming Federation) world records (200 to 1500 meters) in distance free style events. In 1974 Bill was recognized as winning the first organized triathlon in the United States. It was sponsored by the San Diego Track Club and held at Fiesta Island. Recently he was honored as one of the Top 40 Most Influential People in the History of Triathlon at a celebration of the 40th anniversary of that event. Bill was elected to the Triathlete Magazine Hall of Fame in 1998.
In 2014 Bill’s athletic achievements were the subject of an article “Bill Phillips, The First Doctor of Speed” written by Scott Tinley, a Lecturer in ENS at SDSU and former professional Triathlon and Ironman champion. The video may be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PX98t1t1fPA#action=share