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Catholic priest who will say funeral for musician Stephen Phillips says he lost a best friend

Stephen Phillips

Remarkable man lost: “His fingers would fly over the strings of a violin with incredible speed, but he could also build a house.”

THERE’S a drop of Mount Gay rum at Fr Bavin Clarke’s house that will remain untouched for a little while, perhaps forever.

In the middle of September, Fr Clarke poured a glass of it – “the smoothest rum you can buy” – for his good friend, Queensland Symphony Orchestra violinist Stephen Phillips.

They were, according to some, the best of friends.

The late Jesuit Father Gregory Jordan first introduced Fr Clarke to the talented musician a decade ago.

The pair then bonded over their love for organs, technical projects and building up good musicians, but also had good theological debates and of course, rum.

One of the fruits of their friendship sits in St Columba’s Church in Wilston, a virtual organ that took five years to build from the scraps of an aged instrument.

The pair called it Topsy, the name of a girl in the 1852 classic Uncle Tom’s Cabin, who when asked how she came to be said, ‘I s’pect I growed’.

“Oh the crazy stuff we did,” Fr Clarke said.

“It was the simple mutual appreciation for humanity, people, music, the Church.

“What was mine was his, and what was his was mine.”

The rum was one of those possessions the pair shared, but that day in the middle of September would be their last.

A week later, Mr Phillips and two sons of his partner Belinda Williams died in a tragic road accident in New Zealand on Monday, September 19.

Their rental car collided with a truck in the North Island.

The group of five had only just arrived in NZ.

Ms Williams, a viola player for the QSO, was flown to hospital in a critical condition and her daughter Tessa, who was also in the car, survived “without a scratch”.

“I won’t touch that last drop of rum because we shared it a week before he left,” Fr Clarke said.

Mr Phillips was survived by his daughter, Georgiana.

Fr Clarke’s last moment with Mr Phillips was the day before he died, and he had invited him for two dinners in the week leading to his death.

“I saw him on the Sunday before he left, he brought my trailer back,” he said.

Fr Clarke said he had lost his best friend.

“There are a few people in my life whom I thought were seamless with people,” he said.

“Stephen was one of them.”

He said the late violinist would be remembered for his musical prowess and his generosity.

“His fingers would fly over the strings of a violin with incredible speed, but he could also build a house,” Fr Clarke said.

Fr Clarke will farewell his friend as he leaves for eternal rest as the celebrant for his funeral on October 11 at St Brigid’s Church, Red Hill.

Fellow QSO Concertmaster and violinist Warwick Adeney was close friends with Mr Phillips for more than 30 years, firstly as music students in the early 1980s.

He had been with Mr Phillips two days before the accident.

“It is an unbelievable tragedy,” Mr Adeney said.

“We just played a concert together on Saturday night for the orchestra.

“I talked to Steve about how powerful his piece was.”

Mr Adeney was Mr Phillips’ Confirmation sponsor when he entered the Catholic Church in 2002 under Fr Jordan.

He said Mr Phillips had given generously to the Church, referring to the Topsy, as well as organs he built for other parishes.

He had also offered his musical skills as an organist and choir member for the St Gregory’s Latin Mass community.

Mr Adeney said the family had planned to fly to New Zealand on Monday, the day of the accident, to visit Ms Williams’ family.

He said it had been a difficult week for his own family who had often welcomed the late musician and his family into their home.

Brisbane seminarian Jack Ho said he got to know Mr Phillips when both were working on projects at Nazareth House in Wynnum. 

“Stephen was part of a small team of three that set up the organ and sound system for the beautiful chapel just prior to its extensive restoration,” Mr Ho said. 

“I will always remember his enthusiasm in assisting with the Flood Relief Concert at Nazareth House in 2011; and his great generosity in helping to build my custom-made portable practice instrument, a virtual pipe organ (which was Stephen’s passion and specialty) when I entered the seminary.”

Mr Ho said music was Mr Phillips’ passion and he had a steadfast commitment to family and friends.

“Much can be said about Stephen and his excellent musical and technical abilities, but above all, he was a Christian who was faithful and devout; a mentor and companion who is willing to sacrifice himself to bring out the best of others; a man who is committed to his family and friends,” he said.

“I pray that he will enjoy eternal rest in the Father’s House, and no doubt he now makes music with the countless angels in heaven and unite with us in praising God whenever we celebrate the liturgy here on earth.”

Mr Phillips’ funeral will be at 10am at St Brigid’s Church, Red Hill, on October 11.

By Emilie Ng

Catholic Church Insurance

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