A Hot Dog With Jim Phillips

Jim Phillips and “Miss Kitty” at WUGO/WGOH radio in Grayson. While it may not be apparent in the picture, Phillips was practically wrestling his favorite feline into position for this photograph.

The first time I ever spoke to Jim Phillips, the conversation ended with an invitation to visit and eat a hot dog.

Since hearing the news of Jim’s passing, I’ve had that hot dog on my mind.

I have tried, and failed, to write something significant and memorable about the life and legacy of Jim Phillips. Anyone can list his accomplishments, years on the job or even anecdotes about their times with him, and I was determined to say something more about the man himself, and what he meant to me.

Despite all efforts to be poignant, I just kept coming back to hot dogs.

For years, I only visited Carter County by assignment while working as a reporter for the old Ashland newspaper. That meant I was in Grayson or Olive Hill only when there was a tragedy, such as the flooding in 2010, or when a local elected official was expected to make a spectacle at a fiscal court meeting (which happened often back then).

I would typically see Jim Phillips every time I was in Carter County, and he always invited me to come back when I had more time so we could talk about the news business and have a hot dog.

My favorite Jim Phillips memory was born on the day it was announced that I had agreed to be the new editor for what used to be the hometown newspapers in Olive Hill and Grayson.

“Are you crazy? Are you crazy? Are you crazy?” his familiar voice asked when I answered my phone that morning.

It was Jim. We laughed and he invited me to sit down for a hot dog once I got settled in at the desk he had occupied decades before.

At some point, Grayson City Council members began incorporating a hot-dog intermission in the middle of the schedule for their evening meetings. I suspect it began because Jim suggested it, but I have no idea if that’s what really happened.

I remember laughing as my staff reporter returned from one such meeting, smiling as he reported “I thought Jim Phillips was going to have a fit if they did not take that hot dog break break immediately.”

I visited Jim in the hospital and at his home a few weeks back, but part of me seemed to refuse the reality of his situation. In the past few years we all heard stories about Jim’s pending death, and he was always right back at work on “Radio Hill” within a few days.

In my heart, I knew that would not be the case this time, but part of me really believed Jim was going to get out of that bed, put on a shirt and tie and cover the next event or meeting.

In the end, however, I never did get to enjoy a hot dog with Jim Phillips.

Following his visitation last week, I was telling KCU’s culinary chief, Brad Green, about Jim and our hot dog talks. Brad grinned and recalled a time when he was preparing burgers and dogs for an outdoor gathering, when Jim appeared and asked him what he was cooking.

He then chuckled and said Phillips corrected him when he called his entrees hot dogs, insisting that a real hot dog is boiled and not grilled.

In his role as a true community journalist, Jim Phillips gave us all an example of how to do the job right. It may seem trivial, but I will remember him with every hot dog I ever eat.

State Senator Robin Webb first met Jim Phillips while her father was recording his outdoor show at the local radio station.

“Jim was the heart and voice of our community, our county. If journalists today adhered to his standards, our region and the world would be a much better place,” Webb said.

On the day we heard Jim had passed, Carter County Judge Executive Mike Malone said “Jim was always a class act. He was always sensitive to what the community needed. He was always a solid citizen.

“He was someone I always admired and respected. It won’t be as good a world without him as it was with him.”

Written by TIM PRESTON, Carter County Post – January 4, 2020


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