A Paean for Tom Phillips / Una Paeana per Tom Phillips

The word paean is defined in shades of similar meaning; it is a grateful song of thanksgiving, a ritual chant of victory, and it refers to a Greek god of healing whose special talent resides in righting imbalances and bringing sick people to wellness.

I considered these definitions on Friday as I participated in a tribute to Tom Phillips, Seattle Housing Authority’s senior development manager in charge of the High Point redevelopment, upon his retirement.

It is difficult to separate Tom’s achievements from those of High Point itself, which is the most innovative mixed-income redevelopment constructed to date in our nation. Everyone involved—from residents to city officials to designers, contractors, and engineers—can attest to how it has changed their lives and repaired the fabric of an entire community.

This theme of healing, of restoring a once-broken place, is woven carefully throughout the neighborhood. While this stated goal might be common to any housing authority redevelopment, the level of thoughtfulness and caring that characterizes High Point’s streets, homes, parks and gathering spaces is more than that.

Simply, High Point itself is a physical expression Tom’s desire to heal—and it wouldn’t be too much to call it love.

Gathered at Neighborhood House, we heard from Tom’s long-time partners such as SvR’s Peg Staeheli, who spoke for everyone when she said, “Tom, we’re standing ready, waiting for your next request.” SHA’s George Nemeth praised the rigor with which he witnessed Tom listen to—and successfully implement change for—residents, and the warm leadership and keen vision he would soon come to miss in his daily work.

When Tom’s son, Milo, attested to the quality of his childhood spent growing up with Tom—and High Point—it was clear that he had absorbed Tom’s signature emotional maturity and social intelligence for himself. After all, when we speak of a man’s ability to change lives, this includes the way he nurtures his children and encourages them to do good for others.

When it was time to leave, I relished seeing parents and children out walking in the neighborhood, a place that was once isolated from the rest of West Seattle and so violent that it wasn’t safe to drive a car through in the evening.

More people and elements contribute to the success of High Point than I can list without becoming tedious—from those at SHA to the entire design team, from residents to volunteers, from the saving of established trees to the innovative infrastructure system and site plan, from BreatheEasy homes to the parks, community garden and the ultimate affordability, safety and comfort that residents of all income levels share.

Yet, when I think of High Point, I return to the center that draws each of these things together, and that is Tom Phillips. As many people noted on Friday, without Tom’s leadership and vision, High Point would have been good, but not great.

Thank you, Tom, for helping to create an urban place that truly is a high point—and for the ones yet to come.

[Note: if you haven’t been out to High Point yet, be sure to make time for a walk on a sunny day, http://www.thehighpoint.com/%5D

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