Ethan Phillips


The town of Livingston has grown and prospered since the 1950s when I grew up. I can remember the view from my mother's kitchen window in the home we moved to on Hillview Drive. At that time, only one street light could be seen on what we referred to as the ice plant hill, the present location of the Dairy Queen. The way the mail was delivered around the square and many of the adjoining streets around Livingston was carried by a walking mailman who everyone knew, Mr. Ethan Phillips. Mr. Phillips is described as a quiet man, a person who took great pride in doing any job he undertook. He began his career with the post office on August 15, 1930, and retired June 30, 1972. His life began in Pickett County on October 4, 1902, as Ethan Vanburen Phillips, the son of Martin Vanburen Phillips and Melissa Melvina Morgan Phillips. His family lived in a community known as Martin's Bend on Wolf River, a community named after his father. He had one sister, Edith Ruby Ella Phillips, who grew up to become Mrs. Hoy Gillentine. The farm the Phillips family lived on was included in the land that is now under water, following construction of Dale Hollow Dam and lake. The family sometime later moved to a home located near Eagle Creek inOverton County. Mr. Phillips' daughter, Elaine, has a wonderful old picture of her Grandfather and Grandmother Phillips, her father, and his sister,
standing in front of the large, white farm house with gingerbread trim they lived in somewhere around Eagle Creek.

Mr. Phillips received his grade school education at Hatcher Hall School near the Taylor's Crossroads Community, and went on to attend and graduate from high school at Livingston Academy with the class of 1922. While in high school, he played both football and basketball, and was also a member of the Musical Department and Dramatic Club of Livingston Academy. He played the trumpet in the musical department and acted in many plays that were presented by the Dramatic Club of Livingston Academy.

After graduation from high school, Mr. Phillips took a job in Burks' Drug Store, which was located on the square of Livingston. In 1928, he began working for Ragland and Potter, a business that was housed in the old pajama department building of what used to be Livingston Shirt Factory. At the same time, his future wife, Delia Mai Eubank, was also employed with Ragland and Potter. Although Ethan and Delia both attended high school at the same time, and were acquainted, they did not actually begin to date until the time of their employment with Ragland and Potter.

On August 4, 1929, when Mr. Phillips was 26 years-old, they were married, and for a time, they lived with Mr. Phillips' mother in her home on Preston Street. That particular house has changed somewhat over the years, but is still there, just next door to Raleigh and Nola Mae Needham. In 1932, the Phillips built their home on East Cedar Street, and there they lived out the remainder of their lives. They were the parents of two children: a son, Dr. James E. Phillips, of Nashville, who was born in the house on Cedar Street, and a daughter, Elaine Phillips Pennington, of Livingston, who was born in the old Lady Ann Hospital in Livingston.

Today, their granddaughter, Donna (Pennington) England, her husband, Robert, and their two children, Emily and Ethan, occupy the house on East Cedar Street. As a young man, Mr. Phillips was interested in many different things. He took art lessons by mail, and was quite talented in that field. His granddaughter, Donna, has many of the drawings he did, most of which were pen and ink. His daughter, Elaine, has one he did of Mr. Robert Eldridge sitting at a typewriter as he worked on the news for the Livingston Enterprise.
Mr. Phillips was a writer of prose, and Elaine has many things he wrote over the years, her father always careful to include the date on each one. Those Elaine shared with me the day I visited with her were all done on a typewriter and were very neatly saved in a plastic cover. Elaine has many wonderful old family pictures, one of which was taken during the 100th anniversary celebration of the Town of Livingston, held on the
square on August 10, 1933. The people in the picture, including Mr. Phillips, were dressed as pioneers, and a very small girl wearing a dress and bonnet like a little pioneer girl was Katherine McMillian, who grew up
to become Mrs. E.C. "Dusty" Hale.

Mr. Phillips was also a member of the Tennessee State Guard, Company A, 7th Infantry Regiment, and served as company clerk of his company. He once submitted a slogan to The Nashville Banner to be used during the war. His letter is as follows:

March 6, 1942
Slogan Editor
Nashville Banner
Nashville, Tennessee
Dear Mr. Editor,
I am submitting a slogan. If you find it suitable for your purpose, you have
my permission to use it.
To the attack! With Guns, Fire, Hell and Steel. Never shall America be
crushed under an axis heel.

The managing editor of The Nashville Banner replied: "Thanks. I revised it a little to make it fit." The slogan was changed to read "Give 'em the Weapons, Fire and Steel, and we need fear no axis heel." That slogan was printed across the top of a March 1942 issue of The Nashville Banner.

Elaine's description of their home in Livingston was that of a farm right in the middle of town. They had a huge garden, with chickens and cows, and at one point, they raised goats that Elaine learned to milk. Her mother did not work outside the home very long after she and Mr. Phillips married. A love of antiques was something Mr. Phillips thoroughly enjoyed. Reeder's Auction was a place he loved to go to, and the barn near the Phillips' home on East Cedar Street was proof of just how much he did love to collect antiques. Elaine told me the attic space in the barn was packed full of items her father had bought and intended to work on when he found the time. Pieces of furniture he refinished and gave to family members were carefully marked and dated with a permanent marker, the personšs name who was to receive that item included, along with his signature.

Mr. Phillips would have been considered a pack rat by many, since he never, ever threw anything away. Elaine says he was meticulous about saving every little thing, no matter how insignificant it might seem to others. She told me how one day her mother decided it was time to clean out the basement. She said it took them all day to carry out items and place them near the street to be picked up and hauled away. But when her father came home late that afternoon, he was quite distressed by what he saw, and told them, "you'll have to take every bit of that back into the basement...there's no need to throw any of that away...we might need it sometime." And they did just what he said, took it all right back where it came from.

Ethan and Delia Phillips were both members of the Livingston Church of Christ, where Mr. Phillips served as an elder, and also taught an adult class for more than 30 years. In some of the many things he saved were some of the Sunday School lessons he prepared, including notes he had made for each lesson.

John Hunter was a co-worker of Mr. Phillips for the last six or seven years he worked at the post office. John described the walking route that was done not once, but twice each day, which started around the square and included each adjoining street right around town. Mr. Phillips must have worn out many pairs of shoes while completing his route all the 42 years he worked as a walking mailman. The last year he served, he was assigned to a truck for use on the route. John was assigned his route after Mr. Phillips retired. John's wife, Jean, and Mrs. Phillips became acquainted while their husbands worked together, and Jean told me that she and Mrs. Phillips would
occasionally swap recipes. Jean still has a recipe for cream of wheat cornbread Mrs. Phillips used due to the fact that she was diabetic and the cream of wheat was substituted for cornmeal. Jean said it was good, too!

John Hunter told me Mr. Phillips hardly ever missed a day of work, but when
he did, he would substitute for him. On rainy days, Mr. Phillips always carried a big umbrella that hung from his arm, and the route was always walked, regardless of the weather.


Elaine has a picture of her father getting mail out of a box somewhere in town, and in the background, several inches of snow covered the ground. Sears and Roebuck catalogues, as well as those from Montgomery Ward, were also delivered on this walking route. It surely took a strong back and pair
of feet to get this task accomplished! Joyce Ogletree Smith remembers that students at Livingston Academy could receive mail in a little wooden box right across from the principal's office which Mr. Phillips delivered. A person who was a student at the time this service was included by the post office told me she got mail from one of her boyfriends delivered to that little wooden box so that her father wouldn't find out they were dating.

One of Mr. Phillips' writings was entitled "A Clodhopper's Proverb" - May 16, 1929, by Ethan Phillips. "Someday I will. Yes, someday I will. We say it again and again, we promise our selves we will someday. Maybe it is something we wish to do and we will start it some day. Maybe it is a task that is not easy, it is worth while although but we promise our selves will begin some day. Maybe that some day is tomorrow, or yesterday, and yet we find it easy to put off 'till some other day. Can you remember the first day you said I will some day? No. What was it you promised yourself to do that day? What ever it was have you done it? Has that some day arrived? No. Wake up my brother stop putting your self off from day to day."

This distinguished gentleman who served our town so efficiently for so many years, was a highly respected member of this community. Many of the things he saved, his writings, programs from the plays he participated in, letters he wrote, etc., are now considered treasured items by his family members. His love of antiques continues on through his daughter, Elaine, and granddaughter, Donna, as both of their homes will reflect.  He was part of the era of our community that I consider to have been a good time to grow up in.

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