Dr. Peter Phillips, 1931-2023

Dr. Peter Phillips passed away on December 1, 2023. He joined the faculty of Washington University in 1963, and spent the rest of his career there, retiring as Professor Emeritus of Physics in 1999. He was born in 1931 on a paddle steamer going up the Nile, near the town of Juba, that is now the capital of Africa's youngest nation, South Sudan. He was raised in England and earned his BA from Cambridge University. He then found his way to Princeton in 1955 and Stanford in 1956. His PhD thesis advisor was Wolfgang (Pief) Panofsky, who would later become the first director of SLAC.


Dr. Phillips’ career at Washington University is noteworthy in just one respect, his whole-hearted acceptance of the best data of parapsychology. Phillips said, “I have tried to bear in mind the wise advice given me by the distinguished parapsychologist J. B. Rhine. 'You are going to begin,' he said, 'by thinking you are doing physics, but you are not, you are doing something else. If you were a young man, I would not bother telling you this, because you would not listen. But you are older and have more experience.'  Physics, I have come to believe, is a default discipline, applicable when parapsychological effects are negligible. When they are significant, we are confronted by mysteries that are both deep and intractable. I have, of course, been very lucky in being permitted a glimpse behind the curtain that, for so many of us, is firmly closed. But luck is not everything; I have tried, ever since my undergraduate years in England, to follow my hunch that something of this sort must be true, and fortune, as Pasteur said, favors the prepared mind.” 

Dr. Phillips is survived by his wife, Hongwen Xu, his former wife, Elizabeth, his daughter, Valerie Drake, and his grandson, Calvin Drake.

There will be a memorial service on Friday, December 8, at the Jay B. Smith funeral home in Maplewood. Visitation will be from 11 :00 am to 1:00 pm, the memorial service at 1:00 pm and the funeral directly following at Laurel Hill Cemetery.