Rebecca Burns Phillips – Obituary

by Lynn McMillen
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Rebecca Burns Phillips

No one who knew Becky Phillips could fail to be inspired by her quiet dedication. Although best known for her behind-the-scenes role as wife and mother to America’s first Rock N’ Roll family (her husband, Sam, was the visionary progenitor of Sun Records, and her sons Knox and Jerry continued the tradition), she possessed a creativity of her own that found expression not only in her pioneering radio work but in the unfailing nurturing and sustaining role she adopted for her family.
She was a woman of deep-seated religious faith, but it was her sweetness of spirit that communicated itself most to everyone she met, whether family, friends, children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren over the years.
She was a seventeen-year-old high school student already working in radio with her sister when she met her nineteen-year-old husband-to-be at station WLAY in her native Sheffield, Alabama. He had only recently gone to work there as an announcer in 1942 and as she described it, “He had just come in out of the rain. His hair was windblown and full of raindrops. He wore sandals and a smile unlike any I had ever seen. He sat down on the piano bench and began to talk to me. I told my family that night that I had met the man I wanted to marry.”
Becky, Sam said, was the inspiration behind WHER, his first radio station, the first All-Girl Station in the Nation, which went on the air October 29, 1955. The idea of giving women a chance they never had was “based on what I knew Becky could do. Becky was the best I ever heard,” he declared in a 1998 interview for the Peabody Award-winning Kitchen Sisters’ documentary on PBS, WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts. And what he meant by that had less to do with her exceptional gift for writing, for speaking, for presenting and organizing her thoughts in a cogent and compelling fashion, than what lay behind those thoughts, what Sam would call the innate spirituality of the presentation.
But you didn’t have to hear her on radio (where she continued to broadcast till the mid 1980’s) to get the benefit of Becky Phillips’ unmistakable capacity for kindness and connection. Her on-air slogan “A smile on your face puts a smile in your voice,” could just as easily stand for her chosen path in life. There was no better friend, there was no better partner, there was no better spiritual guide than Becky Phillips.
The very qualities that Sam Phillips cited as her special gifts for radio could equally well be cited by her children and grandchildren, more than anyone else the beneficiaries of that indomitable loyalty, that remarkable sense of order and communication not just of words but of deep-rooted emotion that is quietly remarkable and self-effacing woman sent forth into the world.
Survivors include her sons, Jerry Phillips, Knox Phillips and wife Diane; grandchildren, Halley Phillips-Yeager and husband Chad , Roxanne Phillips-Tays and husband Zeth; great grandchildren, Preston, Noah, Charleigh Anne, and River.
Visitation will be Monday, September 17, 2012 from 12 – 2 p.m. at Greenview Funeral Home with the funeral service beginning at 2 p.m. in Greenview Memorial Chapel. Officiating will be Pastor Jimmy Latimer of Memphis, Tennessee. Burial will follow in Sheffield Oakwood Cemetery.
Pallbearers will be Jerry Phillips, Knox Phillips, Chad Yeager, Zeth Tays, Sam W. Phillips, Johnny Phillips, and Jud Phillips, Jr.
An online guest book may be viewed and signed at
Arrangements by Greenview Funeral Home.
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