In Memory of Dr. Alan Phillips


BY pgs-admin
21 August 2008

PGS and IPPNW lost a very special member of their community, Dr. Alan Phillips, on  August 11, 2008. Following is the obituary and comments from PGS members .

Dr. Alan Phillips

Alan F. Phillips MD died peacefully surrounded by his family on 11 August 2008 from complications of a chronic illness. He remained the picture of grace and courage to his last moments.

Alan was born in China in 1920 of British parents. The family returned to England, and he grew up in Norfolk, where his father was the vicar at Great Plumstead. He attended boarding schools as a boy, but greatly enjoyed his visits in Norfolk where he developed a love of the sea, and farming from the local community. In 1938 he went to Cambridge (St. Catharine’s College) on scholarship to study physics. Beginning in 1941, after rejection as a pilot due to a heart murmur that was never detected in later examinations, he worked with the British military on the development of radar.

In 1945 he moved to Edinburgh to study medicine. He met Joyce Douglas, a psychiatric social worker in training. They married in 1949.

Alan and Joy returned to Cambridge in 1951 where he pursued basic research in the new field of radiation therapy, and subsequently clinical radiotherapy. They moved their young family to Western Canada in 1958, and to Flint, Michigan in 1962 where Alan practiced medicine as the first radiation oncologist in the region. He completed his career as an oncologist in Hamilton, Ontario.

Alan had many interests that he pursued with great energy. He was a gardener, sailor, avid reader and polymath; and he enjoyed sharing these pursuits with his family. Always practical, analytical and without pretension, he had excellent adventures and achievements in all of his endeavors, driven by a sense of fairness, generosity and justice.
In the early 1980’s he turned his attention to the misuse of radioactivity for military purposes. He became an activist, applying the same energy, rigorous thought and generosity to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. He supported the movement with carefully researched, thoughtful articles, speeches and policy proposals, working with local, national and international groups in the peace movement. He selflessly donated his thoughts, energy and considerable resources to the cause.

Alan leaves his loving family: his wife of 58 years; his sons James and Martin; a sister, Dr. Marion Bartlett of Lingfield, Surrey, England; three grandchildren and his daughters-in-law.

Anyone wishing to contribute in Alan’s memory is invited to use the fund established by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, at  IPPNW fund , or IPPNW, 727 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139 USA, (617) 868-5050.

Many tributes to Alan Phillips have been sent to the PGS list serve.

Dr. Khursheed Ahmed:
Dear Friends:

I heard the very sad news today that Dr. Alan Phillips passed away yesterday at his home in Pennsylvania surrounded by Joy Phillips and his two sons.

Alan was a very dedicated and long-time member of PGS (Hamilton Chapter), and a great inspiration for all of us. Alan was about 87 years, and I have known him 25 of these years. We met at the bi-weekly PGS meetings at our house and countless social gatherings – he was like a family member to us and to the PGS community. He was very principled, precise and very sure of his facts. I used to refer to him as an evidence-based peacemaker. He was also a wonderful human being and very kind person. I remember learning a lot from him about gardening, chess, history, boating, physics, nuclear weapons, and on and on!

Alan will be sadly missed by us all.

With best wishes and regards,

Khursh Ahmed
Hamilton Chapter

Dr. Jeannie Rosenberg:
I join you all in regretting such a loss. Besides the love we all held for him and Joy, he was such an asset to our group.
One thing about Alan, he was absolutely rigorous in anything he said. If anyone got enthusiastic about a topic, he made sure we would not make unsubstantiated statements. He insisted that in order to maintain our credibility, we had to be sure of our facts. In that (as in so much!) he was indispensable in our meetings. Who will take his place?

Dr. Dorothy Goresky:
Something was said about people being altruistic. I suggested that a definition of altruism (not having a dictionary at hand) could be someone doing something for the welfare of others with no personal reward. After some discussion I put in that I thought there was no such thing as an altruistic person, only altruistic deeds, my reason being that people who do altruistic deeds receive the reward of ‘good feelings’. These can well be related to the hope we might help, in however a small way, to preserving life from extinction, to hoping our children and others will have a planet on which to live.

I review that experience with Alan, because he truly lived a life serving others, never seeking a reward. His life was full of ‘altruistic’ deeds. Thank you, Alan.


Dr. Mary Wynne Ashford:
What sad news about Alan Phillips. I want to reflect for a moment on the wonderful man we knew.

I first met Alan at a PGS meeting in Toronto in 1984 or 85. We had a discussion at that meeting about the need for some kind of computer communication to bring the western chapters into the national discussions. Alan said he knew nothing about computers, but he would look into the question. About six months later he got a handful of us signed on to Cosy, the Guelph system. It was challenging and frustrating to use, but it made a big difference to all of us. Alan continued to troubleshoot from then on, and helped us switch to when the time came. He was unfailingly good natured with those of us who thought the computer was plotting against us.

He kept us focused on scientific evidence for all our position statements and carefully explained theoretical concepts we weren’t familiar with.

A group of us from PGS went to India and Pakistan together in 1999. Alan’s speeches and commentaries were very well received there, not only because of his excellent knowledge, but also because he gave the kind of presentation one expects from a distinguished physician – clear, thoughtful and carefully prepared. Although he found the trip very tiring, he maintained his good humour and and warm friendship with colleagues there.

He continued to write and research the effects of launch on warning. The papers he wrote with Stephen Starr are very important contributions to the issue. PGS must now continue to keep before the government the need to respond only after detonation, not on warning of a nuclear attack.

We have missed having Alan and Joy at our meetings, but have appreciated his email contacts since they moved to the US. Our hearts go out to Joy in the loss of this wonderful man.


Steven Starr:
His great intellect was matched by his kindness and sense of humor. He always could say twice as much as I could, with about half the words and three times the style. He always could see the essence of every issue and the flaw in every argument. He wasn’t afraid to tell the truth.

Alan had many great accomplishments. One thing you may not know about him, of which he was most proud, was that he helped develop radar for the British while World War II raged around him. He was chosen for this role because of his honors degree in physics from Cambridge . . .

Alan wrote many important articles which were the basis of my current understanding of nuclear weapons policy  See “No Launch on Warning” . His one overriding concern, during the last years I was working with him, was to prevent an accidental nuclear war caused by a false warning.

I am mentioning this because I know he would have wanted me to talk about it . . . please read his last paper.

Besides being a great teacher and friend, Alan has been like a father to me. I will greatly miss him.

I pray that this time will not be too difficult for his wonderful wife, Joy.

Best regards,

Steven Starr

 Bev Delong:
Dear friends,

Alan was a long time member of PGS with whom we have worked for years. I recall attending a PGS meeting in Banff in the early 90’s where he took time to carefully explain why we should become engaged in the World Court Project. As you well know, PGS with other Canadian NGOs did create a Canadian working group on that Project which ended rather successfully with an opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legality (or largely the illegality) of nuclear weapons.

Alan extensively researched the effects of nuclear weapons and prepared a short statement summarizing these effects which we continue to use for public education. We know his qualifications as a scientist and radiologist permitted him to read complex information and reduce it to a comprehensible and reliable text for which we are grateful.

More recently, he has been doing very thoughtful and persistent work on the RLOAD (Retaliatory Launch Only After Detonation) as a replacement for Launch on Warning. He defined with infinite care the language used to describe the proposal and then encouraging people like Steven Starr and Robin Collins in their efforts to educate ambassadors and government officials at the UN and in Ottawa about this proposal.

Alan’s intellect was considerable and we are so grateful that his great abilities were directed toward education on the urgent need for nuclear disarmament. My thoughts are with dear Joy as she grieves his loss.

Dr. Barbara Birkett:
We have been so fortunate to have had such a wonderful friend and mentor and excellent human being as a member and leader of PGS.
When I first started going to the Hamilton chapter meetings in the mid/late eighties I felt overwhelmed by my ignorance of all things nuclear. Like the other members of the group Alan and Joy made me feel welcome, and Alan patiently undertook to make me somewhat computer literate. I cannot thank him enough posthumously for that.

My husband also approved of the Phillips’ horticultural endeavours.

PGS as an organization has benefited particularly from Alan’s scientific knowledge and his insistence on focus and accuracy and integrity in our advocacy. He also patiently recorded and produced minutes and spent much time speaking to various groups. He tried to dialogue with agencies such as Ontario Hydro. His work on RLOAD has been characteristically innovative, reasonable and practical.
Alan and Joy’s marriage has been an inspiration for all and their hospitality sustained so many people(to say nothing of Joy’s cookies!)
Alan was an exemplary physician.
To Joy and all the family our thoughts and love at this time.

Louise Rogers:
I would like to echo Barbara’s so-eloquent words. What a human being! I was aware of his lofty Cambridge degrees–and he certainly “left me behind” at times at meetings, but I never felt uncomfortable with him and, typical of Joy and Alan, we enjoyed their hospitality, too.
We feel privileged to have known Alan and Joy.
Louise Rogers

Dr. Sylvia Keet-Peebles

I remember Alan for his clarity of thought, a teacher and inspiration
to all who shared his committment to the aboliton of nuclear weapons.

I believe his profound religious convictions were the basis on which he led his life.

As a fellow Brit, I shared his background of the war years in Britain.

The bookcase in the guest room revealed we enjoyed the same authors of those days, C S Lewis and BBC radio talks among others.

I sought advice from Alan on several occasions, and he was always willing to share his thoughts, and I learned much from him.

I was lucky to stay with Alan and Joy in their home in Hamilton during a PGS meeting one spring ,with Henrietta, who was working with PGS on the World Court Project. Alan felt strongly that was a neccesary milestone in the road to abolition.

Their beautifully designed garden was a mass of colour that spring, and the magnificent pink Magnolia in full bloom. .

Joy was his tower of strength and inspiration, they were in harmony as a couple and it was a pleasure to be with them.

Alan’s spirit pervades our organisation and we mourn his passing.


Dr. Joanna Santa Barbara:
Dear PGS folk,
On Friday night, the old PGS Hamilton group got together again. WE spent time thinking about our dear friend, Alan, and shared memories of our times with him.
They are below.
Warm wishes,

My first meeting with Alan was remarkable for his dedication to working on nuclear weapons issues. Several of us had recently begun a chapter of physicians working on this and were holding a meeting at our hospital, McMaster Medical Centre. Alan happened to be a patient in the hospital at the time. He attended the meeting. He continued as an utterly stalwart member of the group for about twenty years. Alan meticulously recorded the minutes of that group, which later became Physicians for Global Survival – Hamilton chapter, for those two decades.

We were a very active group, engaging with the issues in a variety of ways. We had reason to meet every two weeks. For some time, even that frequency wasn’t enough. In the intervening weeks, Alan, as part of the core group, met with others of us for a PGS breakfast. At our fortnightly evening meetings, Joy and Alan almost always came together. Joy would usually be making or mending something with her hands while she listened to and contributed to the proceedings.

Alan played a very particular role in our city chapter and in the Canadian national organization. He early recognized the value of e-mail communication to the organization, and tried to convince the rest of us of the potential of this new technology. Poor man! We were resistant and needed a lot of convincing. Once some of us began to use it, we needed lots of coaching. Alan was enormously patient. At one point he decided to give up on urging this technology upon us, but slowly we too saw how useful it could be, and PGS began, like other NGOs, to depend on it.

Alan was an avid gardener. He and Joy took great pride in their relative self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetables. Their back-yard, built on shallow mountain -top soil, was enormously productive due to Alan’s soil-nurturing skills. Several of us recall Alan’s particular method of adding nitrogen daily to the compost, and there’s an unknown number of friends who have adopted his unorthodox method. Alan and Joy were particularly frugal in their ways, living simply and well. Joy is famous for her excellent cooking, largely using the produce from their garden. High tea in china cups, a sherry before dinner when there were guests – many of us treasure memories of these occasions. Their favourite entertainment was watching British sit-coms and reading prose and poetry to each other. The money they saved with their simple lifestyle was later devoted to the Anti-Nuclear War Fund.

This fund was distributed judiciously to projects that showed promise of making a difference to abolition of nuclear weapons. Kate Dewes and Rob Green in New Zealand recall that money from this fund was the first they received as they set about the huge World Court Project, which began with a group around Kate’s kitchen table.

Anything Alan undertook, he did very well. He loved the sailing dinghy he had for many years. He and Joy worked to perfection as a team. Alan eventually wrote a book on this particular craft.

Possibly the most touching memory of Alan was his love for Joy, and hers for him. One of our group recalls a PGS dinner when something fell from the table. As she retrieved it, she saw Alan and Joy holding hands under the table.

Alan demanded that we scrutinize the evidence on our issues of concern. He maintained that a great deal of inaccurate rubbish was written about the nuclear issue by people who had no idea of the physics and biology behind the problems of nuclear weapons. With pateince and courtesy he would explain and correct our errors. Alan loved science and rationality.

Alan strongly stood for the importance of a focus on the nuclear weapons issue. He was concerned about ‘diluting’ PGS’s message with other issues. He maintained that it remained possible to obliterate human civilization (but not the human species) in an afternoon, and attention to that concern overrode all others. If we were not to deal with that, it would be pointless making efforts to deal with other issues.
At one point , Alan seized upon the issue of launch-on-warning. He developed a rational alternative to this irrational strategy, and shaped this with assistance from Steven Starr in the US and later with Russian experts. He was deeply intent on promoting this idea. One version of it was developed to appeal to those who were firmly fixed in the framework of nuclear deterrence. Alan showed the rationality of the alternative idea, Retaliatory Launch Only After Detonation, or R-LOAD, within this framework. It had the potential to reduce to zero the risk of accidental nuclear war as a result of mistaken warning signals. This created difficulties among peace group members who somehow assumed that Alan approved of nuclear deterrence, which was very far from the truth. He was a fervent nuclear abolitionist, but intent on eliminating the risk of accidental nuclear war as we trod the slow, uphill journey of abolition. It was important for Alan to know, at the end of his life, that Steven Starr and others would carry on this work. Accomplishment of an end to this risk would be the finest memorial possible for Alan.

We salute you, dear friend. most faithful to the work to build a world without nuclear weapons. We promise to carry on towards accomplishing the object of your dedication. We will miss your presence alongside us.

 Dr. Neil Arya:

Thank you Joanna for such thoughtful words which bring a smile to my face and wonderful memories-dinner with Alan and Joy, a view of the garden (though I am not sure about methods of adding nitrogen! chats in the livingroom on the mountain and on the phone about the ANWF no LOW etc. We shared an engineer/scientist’s view on rationality and on nuclear power. Where we differed such as on the expansion of PGS’s mandate it was always respectful and understanding of the sincerity and thoughtfulness of the other.

When Alan and Joy were considering a move to Waterloo, I was thrilled, and though infrequent, enjoyed my talks with Alan in Pennsylvania-I especially remember his application for US immigration where he had to talk about past memberships, addresses and associations and his glee (tempered with mild trepidation) thinking about how US authorities might react to his revelations.


Dr. Stan Eaman:
Well and truly said! We should all be so blessed eventually to be remembered so fondly. What a mensch !

Well done Alan wherever your spirit may be.

Alan and Joy Phillips