By Tom O’Neal
Many times in print and to him in person I referred to the late Harlan Elwood Phillips as my “second dad.” He was born near Bowling Green, Kentucky on October 31, 1916, and passed away in Tampa, Florida on April 5, 2000. He was baptized into Christ at the 12th Street church building by A.B. Barrrett in November of 1929. In May of 1935 he married Pauline (Polly) Younger. Polly, as most people know her, was baptized into Christ six years later, leaving a denomination for which her father was a preacher. In January of 1941 he began preaching near Nashville, Tennessee. In 1943 he preached his first time away from home at Cottontown, Tennessee.
To Elwood and Polly were born four daughters — Carolyn, Juanita, Elaine, and a little girl who died at four weeks of age.
Foy E. Wallace, Jr. was Elwood’s inspiration to become a preacher of the gospel. In turn, Elwood became an inspiration to many other gospel preachers, including this writer.
In 1940 Elwood moved from Nashville, Tennessee to Tampa, Florida with a sheet metal company for which he worked. His labors carried him to work on the Pentagon from which he carried a piece of metal in a thumb until his death.
When he moved to the Tampa area he began preaching for various churches in the area. He preached for Sulphur Springs, Belmont Heights, Dover, and Clearwater. He preached for the church in Lake City and for the East University Avenue church in Gainesville from 1953-1960. In 1960 he moved back to Tampa where he preached for the Forest Hills church from 1960 to 1975. Then he preached at Fletcher Avenue until that property was sold and the building on South Livingston was constructed. At each of the above churches in Tampa I worked with him in gospel meetings. It was in March 1999 that I worked with him in his last gospel meeting. When he and Harry Osborne met me at the airport, he hugged me as before, but this time three times. I told Harry during the meeting that Elwood was pushing for all he was worth to be present at every service for he probably knew this would be the last meeting in which we would work together. He insisted until the last minute that I would stay with him in his home as I had done so many times before. Finally, he had to give up since he was on dialysis, and he was not able for me to stay with Polly and him.
The printed page was an important part of Elwood’s preaching. He had articles in Gospel Broadcast, Apostolic Times, Gospel Advocate, and Florida News Letter which began in 1958 and became Southeastern News Letter in 1959. It was in 1960 that he and James P. Miller began Searching The Scriptures, which he edited until May 1973, when he turned over the paper to Connie W. Adams. Elwood had edited the paper for 13 years and Connie would edit it for another 19 years before putting it to bed forever.
Besides Elwood’s writings in Searching The Scriptures, his book on the eldership, Scriptural Elders and Deacons, is one of the greatest contributions that has been made to the subject. I take great pleasure in the fact that I talked Elwood into letting the Cogdill Foundation reprint this after the first edition was sold out. Generations yet unborn will be reading this book on the eldership. It is the best on the subject.
From 1960 to 1971 he suffered at least three heart attacks. On August 3, 1971, he suffered a severe heart attack and in 1979 a pacemaker was put in. Then on December 28, 1994, he had triple by-pass surgery. On September 30, 1995, he had to have emergency surgery late in the night on his chest.
He developed diabetes and in time had to go on dialysis, first at home and then three times a week in the hospital. Brethren all over the country were praying for him. On January 26 of this year he had his left leg taken off below the knee and on March 13 he had his other leg off above the knee.
The family searched Tampa in vain for a funeral home with a chapel large enough to accommodate the crowd. This is the reason his funeral was conducted in the Hutcheson Auditorium on the campus of Florida College on April 8 at 11 A.M. by Mike Willis, Connie W. Adams, J.T. Smith, Tom O’Neal and Donnie Rader. Graveside services were conducted by Harry Osborne, preacher for the South Livingston church where the Phillips’ family are members, and Rhymer Knight, long time family friend, led the closing prayer. Ray Hines lead congregational singing.
Tom O’Neal’s Remarks at the Funeral of H.E. Phillips
It was in 1959 that James P. Miller wrote to me and asked that I help promote Searching The Scriptures and write for it, saying that he and brother H.E. Phillips were starting this paper in 1960. At the time I had never heard of H.E. Phillips. Later at the 1960 lectures I met Elwood and obtained an autographed copy of his book on the eldership, Scriptural Elders and Deacons. Over the last 40 years we have become very close friends and I have often referred to Polly and Elwood as my “second parents.” Polly is responsible for my Carolyn and me meeting each other. Elwood’s health prohibited their attending our wedding last year in Texas.
With the publishing of Searching The Scriptures there was a very special relationship between Elwood, Connie Adams, and myself. We have shared some very special times together that I will never forget.
Time does not permit me the opportunity to say a lot of things by way of pleasant memories with Elwood. However, there is one that I must share with this audience today. Several years ago when I was with the church on Fletcher Avenue in a gospel meeting, Elwood and I were sitting at his dining room table talking. With a clinched fist, he hit the table with a confident gesture, and at the same time said, “I am going to heaven; my Lord said I could, and I am going.” I have never known a man who talked about going to heaven more than Elwood and had a more intense desire to do so. I believe with all of my heart that Elwood is among the redeemed of the ages today.
When I think of Elwood there is one passage of Scripture that comes to mind. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.”
When I finished my meeting with the South Livingston church in March of 1999, Elwood arose and made his way to the front of the building to commend to the congregation the sermons he and the church had requested that I come to Tampa and present on “The Deity of Christ.” He said,
I think I have been very nice during this meeting. I have kept my mouth shut until now, but I think circumstances demand that I say something lest somebody perceive that I am trying to distance myself from the lessons you’ve heard tonight and the manner in which they have been presented and from Tom O’Neal. I first met Tom O’Neal 40 years ago, maybe a little more, I am not sure. But during that period of time, from that time (I have had various occasions to be with him), we have talked frequently on the telephone and by mail and in other means. We’ve shared time together in the pulpit. I’ve heard him debate. I have recorded debates that he has had with different denominational people and with some brethren — false brethren. I appreciate his sincerity and his determination to preach the truth.
During the period of time that I have known Tom, I don’t remember us having any cross words. It is not because we have both been little angels; we are not. We’ve made mistakes, but we have talked about them. We have talked about truth. We have talked about the Bible. We’ve talked about problems that each of us have has or been through. I want to commend to you tonight the lessons that you’ve heard and the manner in which they have been preached. I don’t perceive anything arrogant about anything he said or anything evasive about anything he said. But as Harry just now pointed out, the Scriptures teach by Paul and Peter and James and John and the apostles — all of them that we have recorded. They identify sin for what it is. They identified the false preachers by name. That keeps you from being deceived by them. We need to do that. There is a difference between that and assaulting somebody’s character. We are not talking about what kind of person they are, as to their moral standing. That is another issue. But when a man teaches something that is contrary to the word of God, we need to know not only the doctrine, but we need to know the man who teaches it, because that is the way the Bible teaches it. That is what the New Testament teaches. Plain and sound doctrine will convince the world of sin, and it will stop error where it is. And we appreciate that, Tom. And I thank you for the lessons on behalf of, I guess my family (I don’t know anybody else I could thank on behalf of). We appreciate your presence here tonight, all of you who are here. But I want to commend to you the lessons you’ve heard and the manner in which they have been presented. I love Thomas G. O’Neal very much for his work’s sake through the years. I have appreciated him very much. I thank you very much.
I am thankful to God for permitting our lives to blend so harmoniously for over forty years. I am thankful that I was blessed by knowing H.E. Phillips.
P.0. Box 723, Bessemer, Alabama 35021