James W. McPhillips, 85, engineer

James W. McPhillips
James W. McPhillips
Posted: December 11, 2013

James W. McPhillips, 85, formerly of Philadelphia and Havertown, the city's former chief engineer and surveyor for three decades, died Wednesday, Dec. 4, of dementia at Arden Courts in Warminster.

As chief engineer and surveyor with the city's Streets Department, Mr. McPhillips oversaw the development of many bridges, roads, and highways. He worked for the city from 1962 to 1991.

He also was a Fairmount Park commissioner.

Under his tenure, the city undertook the building of I-95 through the city, the South Philadelphia stadium area, the Columbia Avenue Bridge, and Island Avenue.

In 1991, he joined Urban Engineers Inc., an engineering and management firm in Philadelphia, where he worked on the Vine Street Expressway and the Avenue of the Arts. He retired in 1999.

In June 1987, Mr. McPhillips was forced to step down from the Fairmount Park Commission by a committee of Common Pleas Court judges who chose members of the panel. Julius Erving, formerly of the 76ers, and Rosanne Pauciello of South Philadelphia, a truant officer for the public schools with ties to the Democratic state committee, were selected instead.

As chief engineer, Mr. McPhillips had served for more than 20 years as an ex-officio member of the commission. The move left the Northeast without a representative on the commission, and prompted calls for changes in the selection process.

"This isn't right. No wonder people from the Northeast get disgusted," City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski told The Inquirer at the time.

Mr. McPhillips was president of the American Society of Civil Engineers from 1969 to 1970, and wrote about engineers' roles in public affairs for the society's newsletter in 1972.

Mr. McPhillips was a lifetime enthusiast of classical music and opera, and an avid reader.

"He had a particular fondness for Ernest Hemingway and W. Somerset Maugham," his family said in a statement.

He served for years as a member of the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Cemetery Committee, and was an adviser to Drexel University and Holy Family University.

Born in Ocean City, N.J., and raised in Somers Point, N.J., Mr. McPhillips moved with his family to the Richard Allen Homes in South Philadelphia as a 12-year-old.

His was one of two white families in the project. He recalled how kindly the family was treated by neighbors. "Only the best people lived in the projects," he liked to say.

He graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School, and after two years in the Army Corps of Engineers earned bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering from Drexel University.

Mr. McPhillips told his family he had a huge sense of pride in being a civil servant and working to build and maintain the city.

He married Helene Ryan. The two lived in Torresdale and Havertown before retiring to a senior community in Warminster.

In addition to his wife of 59 years, he is survived by sons Kevin S. and James P.; daughters Helene M. Dunn, Jeanne M. D'Amore, and Noelle M. Lenhart; a brother; two sisters; 10 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. Another daughter, Nancy Bradley, died earlier.

A viewing starting at 9:30 a.m. will be followed by a 10:30 Funeral Mass on Tuesday, Dec. 10, at Nativity of Our Lord Church, 605 W. Street Rd., Warminster. Interment is private.

Contributions may be made to the Alzheimer's Association National Office, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill., 60601.


bcook@phillynews.com

610-313-8102

 

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