For 62 years, Obie L. Phillips served as a beacon who guided hundreds of students at Neches Independent School District toward being successful and productive citizens through education.

The beloved educator was remembered Tuesday during a dedication ceremony to unveil a road sign in his honor. The stretch of CR 346 from U.S. 79 to the Neches High School campus became the Obie L. Phillips Memorial Road following a vote of the Anderson County commissioners’ court earlier this week.

Phillips, who died in July 2003, served the Neches school district from 1940 to 2002 in several capacities through the years, including as a teacher, principal, interim superintendent and school board member.

“For his outstanding contributions of helping young people achieve their goals and ambitions in life through education, it is fitting and proper that he is remembered with the naming of the road leading to his beloved Clemons/Neches High School,” Neches ISD Superintendent Gary Holcomb said. “He was an outstanding educator and a remarkable person. It was my privilege and my pleasure to work with him as interim superintendent. I cherish memories of him and his family.”

Holcomb said it was especially deserving for the honor during Black History Month.

Anderson County Judge Carey McKinney made the presentation for the unveiling of the road sign to Phillips’ widow and retired educator Sadie Phillips and other family members.

“Mr. Phillips was a good example to everyone, especially to the young people in Anderson County,” McKinney said, noting that he served on the Anderson County Sheltered Workshop Board with him at one time.

Edward Phillips, a 1968 graduate of Neches High School and a former student under Obie L. Phillips, started the idea for the naming of the road in his honor.

“Mr. Phillips served here many years and this was a way to thank him for his service. He was an honorable man who loved what he did. He loved children and loved this school. He believed in you whether you believed in yourself or not and kept his faith in you.

“You don’t have to look outside for heroes — heroes are where we live,” Edward Phillips continued. “That’s why we are here today to honor him.”

Phillips’ widow Sadie Phillips was touched by the dedication ceremony and naming of the road to the school.

“’Thank you’ isn’t enough. I know my husband is smiling down from heaven,” Phillips said during the ceremony. “We are humbly honored. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Obie L. Phillips began his extensive career first serving as principal of Union Academy School in Palestine in 1939. In 1940, he became a classroom teacher at Clemons High School and was principal of Clemons High School in 1945 until he retired in 1981. In 1965, he was the guiding force in the transition of desegregation. Clemons High School became Neches High School. In 1977, he was interim superintendent of the district. He served 37 years as principal in the NISD. In 1982, he became a member of the NISD school board where he served for 20 years, 16 as president.

Mr. and Mrs. Phillips reared seven children, O.B. Jr., John Franklin, Katie Louise, Lorenza Alton, Charles Leon, Anna Kathleen and Patricia Nell — all who went to college.

Their son, retired Maj. Gen. John F. Phillips, at one time served as the deputy under the Secretary of Defense, overseeing an organization of 850,000 military and service personnel. The Maj. Gen. John Phillips Memorial Park in Palestine is named in his honor.

“(Obie) felt education was the key to success and one cannot be successful without some kind of education,” Sadie Phillips said of her late husband. “He thought public school education was the ground work for this.”

Obie L. Phillips helped push many kids toward college, his widow said, sometimes physically taking the student to their college of choice.

“One particular young man he helped enroll in college. That young man said he would have never went to college if he hadn’t pushed him. He is now a doctor,” Sadie Phillips said.

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Cheril Vernon may be reached via e-mail at community@palestineherald.com

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