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Win Phillips, longtime UF leader, dies at 83

Win Phillips, a longtime UF leader known for his depth of knowledge of the university, versatility and thoughtful advice to the many people who sought it, died Saturday. He was 83.

The cause was cardiac arrest, said his son, Stephen Phillips.

Phillips, who arrived at UF in 1988 as dean of engineering, served in several different leadership positions before retiring in June. He was highly regarded for his proficiency as a generalist, able to take the reins and push forward whatever he was overseeing, while always focusing on the greater UF and its rise as a top public university.

“Win had a saying that he shared with many people over the years when they sought out his counsel for big decisions: As long as you always do what’s best for the university, you can’t go wrong,” said Mori Hosseini, UF Board of Trustees chair. “That was Win — he was selfless, always willing to step in and fill whatever role he was needed in, and always willing to do what was best for the university. He was pivotal in making UF the great institution it is today.”

UF President Ben Sasse echoed Hosseini’s sentiments.

“Win Phillips’ passion for UF was obvious, and he was known for his deep grasp of many dimensions of this incredibly complex institution — from academic excellence to research to tech commercialization to student life. He spent his career helping to make UF a leading university. Gator Nation is grateful for his service.”

Phillips was hired by then-UF President Marshall Criser from Purdue University, where he had been head of the School of Mechanical Engineering. He spent 11 years as dean of what is now the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, growing and diversifying the college and increasing its national stature.

“Win Phillips was a consummate engineer. He was infinitely practical, he understood how all the parts of any challenge fit together in the big picture, and he always came up with creative solutions,” said Forrest Masters, interim engineering dean. “His impact on the college as dean was indelible.”

Phillips left the college in 1999 to become vice president for research and dean of The Graduate School, a dual role he maintained until 2004, when the then newly arrived president, Bernie Machen, asked him to focus exclusively on research.

Machen, who served from 2004 to 2014, said his goal at the start of this tenure was to increase UF’s research productivity. Phillips advised that the best first step was to build major new research facilities. That advice, Machen said, led to the construction of three major new facilities including the Cancer and Genetics Research Complex — creating cutting-edge space for new faculty and ultimately contributing to the rapid growth of sponsored research at UF.

“The development of our research productivity was a multistage process, but it starts with Win’s analysis that we didn’t have enough infrastructure to support it,” Machen said.

Phillips next served as senior vice president and chief operating officer from 2011 to 2014. In 2014, he became senior advisor to the president. He became executive chief of staff in 2015, a role he maintained until his retirement late last year.

UF President Emeritus Kent Fuchs, whose tenure spanned 2015 to 2023, said he relied on Phillips for his wealth of experience and wisdom, proclivity for seeing issues and events through the lens of the faculty — and always reasoned and objective approach.

“Even though he had strong opinions, you never felt like he was biased, apart from wanting what was best for the institution and the faculty,” Fuchs said. “He wasn’t prejudiced about any issue.”

Joe Glover, senior advisor to the president and former UF provost, said Phillips was “remarkably effective in helping the university make strategic decisions” in his many roles.

Those roles included serving stints in 2018 as interim vice president for university relations and in 2019 as interim vice president for student life. Heading up student life was well outside his more technical areas of expertise, Glover said, but Phillips handled it with aplomb.

“He saw his mission in life as to help to clarify all the different forces that were in operation, and to help people figure out a path to get done what needs to be done,” Glover said. “All of which he did with a wry sense of humor.”

Kathy Wilson served as Phillips’ executive assistant throughout his 35-year-plus UF tenure and communicated with him daily following his retirement. She said she regularly saw how much he was valued by others — and how much he cared about the university and its community.

“He was very smart and knowledgeable, and people had great respect for him,” she said. “He would tell it like it is, and people like to know that.”

UF created the Win Phillips Town Gown Relations Award in 2022 in honor of Phillips. The award is announced at a Board of Trustees meeting every year and celebrates the connections between UF and the greater Gainesville community.

Phillips’ wife, Betty Phillips, a former faculty member and provost at UF, died in 2017. He is survived by two sons from an earlier marriage, Stephen and Sean; three grandchildren; and two great grandchildren. In keeping with his wishes, there will be no memorial service.

Honoring the Memory & Legacy of Win & Betty Phillips

Win and his wife, Betty, both contributed greatly to the advancement of our University of Florida community. By making a gift in their memory, you can help uplift the causes that meant so much to them.

The Betty and Win Phillips Fund to support neurosurgery research, with an emphasis on glioblastoma research

The Elizabeth Capaldi Phillips Endowment for the UF Center for Smell and Taste

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