Rev. Oscar Phillips; was force in bringing people together

By Emma Stickgold, Globe Correspondent  |  September 14, 2005

As pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in West Medford for more than four decades, the Rev. Oscar George Phillips smoothed out racial tensions in the city's schools, counseled hundreds of parishioners, and baptized 300 babies by his own estimate.

''He always came to this office and said 'All right, let's bring everyone together,' " Medford Mayor Michael J. McGlynn said yesterday, adding, ''he had a real booming, direct voice that really grabbed your attention."

On Sept. 5, the Rev. Phillips, known to most as ''O.G.," died at a Lexington nursing home at the age of 91.

The Rev. Phillips joined Shiloh in 1950. Half a dozen years later, he used his pulpit and his connections through the Boston area to rally parishioners and others behind the efforts of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was leading the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. The two reverends had known each other from their days at Boston University and through clergy groups.

Troubled by the de facto segregation he observed in the Medford schools during the 1960s, the Rev. Phillips volunteered to have his children bused along with other West Medford black students to an all-white elementary school miles away. He then rode along with them to make sure the transition into the school went smoothly.

In the 1970s, the Rev. Phillips along with his wife, Miriam, whom he married in 1954, helped to pull together residents to form the Medford chapter of the NAACP.

When the city experienced a rapid growth of Haitian, Cuban, and Puerto Rican immigrants, the Rev. Phillips worked with school officials to teach youngsters to blend their cultures. When racial tensions peaked in the early 1990s, he worked to bring leaders in the city together to figure out how to avoid racially charged confrontations in the schools.

Phillips and his wife also organized community meetings, called ''fireside chats," to address the matter.

''We are a very diverse community," McGlynn said. ''There are those who take the opportunity to attack and there are leaders who come forward and try to heal and bring people together and help to try to understand different cultures and backgrounds, and that's what Rev. Phillips was."

At meetings, the Rev. Phillips had a commanding presence, offering his firm handshake. With ''a nice smile on his face, he'd say 'Good, good. Everything is good,' " when asked how he was doing, McGlynn said. ''All you had to do was meet him once and you had instant respect."

''People respected him because he was honest, he wasn't afraid to speak his mind, but not in a way that was off-putting to anyone," his son, Peter, of Somerville, said.

A native of Jamaica, the Rev. Phillips earned his bachelor's degree and master's in education from Bishop College in Dallas. He received a divinity degree from Andover Newton Theological School and a master's in sacred theology from Boston University.

For several years, Rev. Phillips was the clinical director of pastoral education at the Andover theological school, guiding young clergymen in ways to handle grieving families and those facing death. He also was a chaplain at Boston City Hospital, Tewksbury State Hospital, and St. John's Hospital in Lowell.

He retired from Shiloh in 1992.

''He helped us celebrate diversity in our community with a positive force that hopefully, man, we'll emulate for years to come," McGlynn said.

In addition to his son, Peter, and his wife, Miriam, the Rev. Phillips leaves his daughter, Miriam of Boston; one brother, Kent of Jamaica; three sisters, Cynthia of Montreal, Hazel Obawenyi of Houston, and Vivia of Jamaica; and two grandchildren.

Services have been held.

© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.