A cruise industry innovator thanks UF for his success on the high seas by tossing a lifeline to students with financial needs.
A native of Alachua County, Everette Phillips (BSBA ’58) was a visionary force behind the fun elements in Carnival Cruise Lines’ “Fun Ships.” Now, his generous legacy gift to UF is funding the educations of students from North Central Florida, through the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship program.
“All throughout my father’s career, he made a positive impact on thousands of people’s lives,” said Donna Phillips, Everette’s daughter. “He came from humble beginnings, Depression-era parents. He was working in a High Springs shoe store when the owner rallied local support to get him a Rotary Club scholarship to attend UF. This endowment is his way of paying that back to his community.”
Named for the donor and his late wife, Diane, the Everette and Diane Phillips Endowed Scholarship fund supports high-achieving first-generation college students from Alachua, Columbia and Gilchrist counties through the MFOS program.
“It was really important to him that the endowment benefited kids who were in the same position he had once been in – barely making it.”
— daughter Donna Phillips —
Like the giant cruise ships he ran food and beverage (F&B) services for, Phillips left a mighty wake behind him in the many lives he touched in his 86 years.
“He never forgot a name and always thanked every crew member he met,” said Carnival senior cruise director John Heald when Phillips passed in 2020.
“He was a gentleman,” said Carnival sales exec Maurice Zarmati. “He had an inquisitive mind and a very fair approach. When he spoke to you, he looked you in the eye … and always made you feel comfortable.”
“He was a special human being, and everybody loved him, everybody,” Zarmati added.
As the founder of Seachest, the company that provided food and beverages, gift shop and photo services for Carnival for more than 20 years, Phillips oversaw many innovations of modern-day cruising: casual Lido Cafe dining, parades and dancing (“Hot, Hot, Hot” conga lines), bon voyage gifts and wedding services. His eye for detail extended to installing the first onboard escalators to facilitate split-level dining on two decks.
“He invented that so waiters wouldn’t have to carry big, heavy trays up the stairs,” says Donna. “He thought of everything.”
Steaming Toward Success
Phillips’ can-do ethic can be traced to his humble beginnings in High Springs, Florida, where he was born in 1934. His own father died when he was young, so Phillips had to “step up to the plate” to help the family. “They were Depression-era people, so there was no excuse for anything,” said Donna. “You took responsibility, you showed up on time, you did what you said you were going to do. And you were responsible to your community, so he played organ in his church.”
After graduating from High Springs High School, Phillips worked at a cafeteria and a shoe store, with plans of becoming a pastor. However, the shoe store owner saw academic potential in him and pushed him to go to UF.
“She told him he had to look beyond because he was class valedictorian,” she said. “She ended up networking to find him the money through the Rotary Club.”
The bright young man soaked up his coursework in business administration at UF while working part-time at Long’s Cafeterias. After graduating in 1958, Phillips entered a management training program through Morrison’s Restaurants, a chain of cafeterias throughout the Southeast.
He relocated to Miami and immediately began putting that knowledge to use when Morrison’s was awarded the catering contract for Eastern Steamship Lines.
Among his early projects in South Florida: a meal-delivery business that was decades before its time.
“He had a whole staff, and they would drive home-cooked meals to your door,” said Donna. “He was Uber and DoorDash — in the 1960s!”
By that time, Phillips was married to his first wife, Doyce, with two children, and had established himself as a successful restaurant manager. His catering business turned a tidy profit, which led to work for the Jamaica Queen, Commodore Cruise Line and Chandris Line, the Greece-based shipping company.
In 1978, Carnival Cruise Line let Phillips know he had a job waiting for him there, but the seasoned businessman had more ambitious plans: start his own food and beverage company and run it autonomously.
With a $50,000 initial investment from Carnival, Seachest was born.
Phillips warned his family they would have to tighten their belts for a while.
“He told us he would not make a salary for two years,” Donna said. “He would be given stocks [by Carnival] and have to make his own way. He said, ‘No school clothes for two years, and you’re going to eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly … but it will pay off, I’m pretty sure it’s going to pay off.’”
And, boy, did it ever.
“The first month, he lost money,” Donna told Seatrade Cruise News. “The second, he broke even. The third, he made a profit, and he never looked back.”
“Everette Phillips never forgot a name and always thanked every crew member he met.”
— John Heald, Carnival Cruise Line senior cruise director —
A Beacon of Positivity
Everette Phillips ran his business so well, Carnival eventually absorbed his operation into their company. After retiring in 1997, he continued to travel the world, often with family in tow, including his second wife, Diane.
On a 2017 trip to South America, Everette and Donna disembarked at Easter Island. There, on rolling green hills dotted with towering volcanic statues, he told his daughter he wanted to give a substantial portion of his estate to UF. It was the least he could do for the institution that had helped transform an ordinary High Springs boy into a globe-trotting entrepreneur.
“He spoke so highly of the university,” said Donna. “He was an avid Gator fan and supporter, and took us to Gator Growls when we were super young.”
“He even gave me the crystal Gator basketball someone had given him when UF won the championship,” she added.
Two years after the Easter Island trip, in October 2019, Phillips took a cruse down the Danube River, where he met fellow traveler and UF alum Jeannie Macaluso (BAE ’81). The two reminisced about their alma mater and showed their Gator pride by posing with the UF flag for photos. What Phillips didn’t know was this would be his last cruise.
The following month, he was diagnosed with the return of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and began treatment. He succumbed to the illness in April 2020, at age 86.
Tributes poured in from leaders in the cruise industry, as well as from hundreds of ordinary people whose lives he had touched. Indeed, his respectfulness and gift for sparking joy in others are what many treasure about their time with Phillips.
“The most common thing I hear from people — even from the hospice nurses, who all say he was a gentleman — is that he made them feel better,” Donna said. “He was a positive influence in so many people’s lives. He helped crew members leave countries where they had no prospects or future, and gave them opportunities and hope.”
That hope also lives on in the Everette and Diane Phillips Endowed Scholarship fund, whose recipients hail from Everette’s old stomping grounds and have now started on their own paths at UF.
Donna hopes the MFOS scholars draw inspiration from her father’s story and his model of paying it forward.
“It was really important to him that the endowment benefited kids who were in the same position he had once been in – barely making it,” said Donna.
“He wanted to help those kids for whom it was nearly impossible, financially, to ever go to college.”