As with many selfless men, no one person ever knew just how much Eddie Phillips gave to his friends, family and community.
He never wanted recognition for the help he gave, and his acts of kindness are told in bits and pieces by those he knew best.
Phillips gave freely of his time and knowledge to those who needed business help. He gave freely of his money to those who were less fortunate and needed a helping hand. And he gave freely of his love to his many friends and large family.
Family members and close friends met at his home Monday night to remember the 68 years of happy moments they spent with Phillips. The long-time real estate agent and appraiser died Sunday at Abbey Hospice in Social Circle after a 10-month battle to survive a heart attack.
As stories were recounted Monday night, even his wife Carolyn and his daughters would exclaim with surprise at hearing a new story.
But one thing everybody knew about Phillips was that he knew land. He was perhaps the most knowledgeable and trusted property appraiser in Newton County. He wouldn’t just look at a piece land or a building, he would walk and examine every last inch of it.
He knew every road — every piece of available property.
"His genius was in appraising property," wrote good friend Bill Travis. "Indeed, when he gave his word on the value of a property, it was solid. Land was rarely bought without consulting him."
City council members and county commissioner routinely called Phillips for advice. Carolyn said former Mayor Sam Ramsey expressed gratitude for the help Phillips’ provided during the city’s purchase of the buildings that recently came to house the homeless shelter. Few people knew that.
Son-in-law Tommy Knight recounted how Phillips’ knowledge helped a friend earn an extra $1 million on the sale of a piece of property. In preparation for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, Atlanta officials wanted to purchase hundreds of acres of land in Rockdale County for equestrian events. Their offer was about half of Phillips’ appraisal. The matter was eventually settled in court. The value was ruled to be right around Phillips’ original price. Even fewer people knew that.
On a property that sold for around $2 million, Phillips made $450 for his work. And that didn’t bother him one bit. He never charged people who asked for his time and opinion; he shared his knowledge and enthusiasm freely. Sometimes, he gave his money freely as well.
Phillips used to manage the leasing of a home owned by another man. Knight remembered the tenant coming in to Phillips’ realty office every month for three straight years to say he a little short on rent. Yet, when Knight later studied the finance books, he noticed the owner was always paid in full. The difference was paid by Phillips out of his own pocket.
Phillips is well known for his mom-and-pop real estate operation, Key Realty, but he didn’t always work in the business. After graduating from Avondale High School in 1959, Phillips went on to join the Air Force Reserves. Though he never saw combat, he was called to active duty during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tense time in U.S. history.
After the crisis passed, Carolyn became pregnant with their first child. Phillips had completed his service and decided it was time to focus on family. He began his professional career as an insurance salesman in Atlanta. Carolyn remembered Phillip’s outgoing personality served him well from the very beginning.
He used to have to travel to houses around the city collecting insurance payments along his route. Even in the worst parts of town, Phillips made friends. He would sometimes even stop to have dinner with customers.
A job opening brought him to Newton County and Phillips fell in love with Covington. Even in the late 1960s, Newton County was beginning to boom and Phillips saw an opportunity to make a good living in real estate. With a family to provide for, Phillips sold insurance during the day and took real estate school classes at night. Later, he became a certified appraiser, once again taking classes when he could make time.
Carolyn said he was always busy, usually working two jobs to provide for his family.
When finances weren’t an issue he would participate in any city or community group that needed his help. Phillips felt it was his responsibility as a citizen of the county to be as involved as possible. His love of nature and trees led him to the Tree Preservation Board. His knowledge of appraising made him a natural fit for County Tax Assessor’s Board. And his faith in God helped him influence a whole generation of future leaders while he was a Sunday School teacher at First United Methodist Church.
His business Key Realty was an extension of that nature.
"He was a classic workaholic, because he loved real estate. Key realty was his life," said daughter Paige Alexander, who will be taking over the family business. "He loved to communicate with people and help them, and he loved seeing the community grow."
But no matter how much time and effort he gave others, his family always came first. His three daughters, Dana Knight, Alexander and Sherie McCart all gained work experience in the business, and Phillips helped them all buy and renovate their first houses.
In his later life, Phillips made sure he attended every baseball game or cheerleading event in which his grandchildren were involved.
Grandson Zack Freeman remembered how Phillips donated money to his recreational baseball team, and Austin Knight remembered how his grandfather would give him money after every baseball game, $5 for every home run, to support him no matter how well or poorly he did. Even Alana Knight would get money for painting pictures, since sports weren’t her forte.
McCart may have summed him up best, without summing him up at all.
"He just did so much for people. It’s hard to put into words. It didn’t matter who you were," she said.
His family and friends remember him best for his kindness — he never had a negative word to say about anybody — his honesty and his selflessness. His wife remembers the trips they used to take through the Georgia mountains, riding in his beloved Corvette, listening to Elvis. His friend John Howard remembers drinking coffee and shooting the bull with him at the office.
The thing is, for a man who worked behind the scenes, Eddie Phillips will sure be remembered.