William Emerson Phillips

November 1, 1938 ~ August 9, 2023 (age 84) 84 Years Old


William Emerson Phillips died August 9, 2023 at his home in Nanaimo, BC, from complications related to Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia.  He was lovingly cared for at home the last year of his life and left his family wonderful memories which will sustain them in the days ahead.

Bill is survived by his loving family:  wife Evelyn; daughters Katherine (Iain), Robin, and Sylvia (Pat); granddaughters Lena, Joy (Michael), and Autumn; stepchildren David and Elizabeth (Randy); step-grandchildren Jordan (Julia), Julien (Ayden), and Erin; and cousins in Canada and the US.

Bill was born November 1, 1938 in Fredericton, NB and raised in Bible Hill, NS by loving parents Lena (Rayner) and Emmerson Phillips.  His father was a skilled carpenter, and his mother provided room and board for students attending the agricultural college next door to their home, the college which Bill would eventually attend.  Bill had wonderful memories of growing up in Bible Hill, but as his memory failed, it was Prince Edward Island, the birthplace of his parents, to which he was drawn.  It was where he spent many happy holidays with his large Phillips and Rayner extended families.

In 1957, Bill began his 2-year diploma program at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, hoping to go on for a Bachelor’s degree, never dreaming that he would eventually pursue graduate degrees.  He was persuaded by his professors to continue his education, and after obtaining a BSc in Agriculture at McGill University in 1961, earned his MSc in Agricultural Economics at the University of Connecticut in 1964.  Once again, he was encouraged to continue and, in 1967, Bill received his PhD at the University of California Berkley in Agricultural Economics (Natural Resource Economics) and spent an additional year there doing post-doctoral research.  During his years of study, Bill’s daughter Katherine was born in Montreal, daughter Robin in Connecticut; and daughter Sylvia in Edmonton.

In 1968, Bill returned to Canada as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Rural Economy at the University of Alberta.  He became a full professor in 1976.  Until his retirement in 1995, he served on many departmental, faculty, and university committees and held numerous professional offices and memberships.  He served as Department Chair from 1987 to 1992.  But his first love was teaching natural resource economics, forest economics, economics of outdoor recreation, statistics, and econometrics.  Bill particularly enjoyed guiding graduate students and, during his 27 years at the U of A, served as advisor to over 40 MSc and PhD students and mentor to many more graduate and undergraduate students.

Bill was proud of his family and took great pleasure in the many accomplishments of his children, grandchildren, stepchildren and step-grandchildren.  Visits with his daughters and granddaughters across Canada were among the highlights of his life.

Bill loved music, particularly jazz, and in his early years in Edmonton played piano with Harry Pinchin’s Cosmopolitan Music Society.  For years, he regularly played in a jazz band with friends, and attended and volunteered at Edmonton’s Jazz Festival.  He had a large collection of jazz recordings.

Bill, with skills learned from his father, did major renovations to their farmhouse in Andrew, AB.  Bill and Evelyn spent many happy summers there and, following his retirement, they lived at the farm until moving to Nanaimo in 2002.  During these years, they enjoyed camping, travelling and spending time with family in Eastern Canada and the US.

Bill loved a good party, and he and Evelyn entertained frequently at their Edmonton home and at their Andrew farm.  Their annual farm party, with up to 100 people attending for the weekend, was legendary.  Bill was so fortunate to have students and colleagues from all over the country and world, and he and Evelyn enjoyed spending time with them and their families.  His life was enriched by travels to Thailand and Zimbabwe, where he was fortunate to be involved in research projects.

After Bill’s move to Nanaimo, he became interested in genealogy and spent many happy hours researching his family lineage.  Because several generations of his family were born and raised on PEI, he was able to create a family tree with over fifteen thousand relatives going back 50 generations.

Bill endured many health issues in the last 20 years of his life, including two bouts of colon cancer, and he met these challenges with determination and grace.  After his dementia diagnosis in 2021, in hopes of helping reduce the stigma associated with dementia, he chose to be open about his cognitive challenges.  Throughout Bill’s long illness, he never lost his kind and loving personality, or his wry sense of humour.  Caring for him was an honour for his family and for the many professionals who assisted in his care.

Bill was a strong but gentle and compassionate man, whose kindness and joyful presence drew people to him.  He rarely met someone he didn’t like, had a smile as big as all outdoors, and an infectious laugh.

An opportunity to gather and celebrate his life will be held at:  The Grand Hotel, 4898 Rutherford Road, Nanaimo, BC on September 9, 2023 at 2:00 pm.

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