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Thursday, November 11, 2010


I keep reflecting on the last time I saw Phil Grega. I boarded a Metro bus in downtown Seattle and he was riding on it. As we started talking I said, "You don't look so well."  He said he felt sick.  He asked me to pray for his family, that he worried about them.  Then he had to get off the bus.  Less than a week later I heard he had just died.
A couple months before he had been up to my house to watch a movie with me and he had as usually indulged in the junk food.

Phil was a very intelligent person but when he talked he wandered.  He couldn't keep total control of the direction of his speech. It was often a guessing game determining what he meant.

His forehead had a large dent in it.  Over the years I had wondered what had happened to Phil, but I only gradually found out his story.  Phil was always just part of the crowd at church and I was always afraid to ask specific questions about his condition.  He often came to movie nights I held at my house for some of my friends from church.

Phil always invited people to events with him --especially plays.  I was usually too busy, but I finally consented to go here Boris Godunov at  the Opera with him.  Just like at movie nights, during the opera Phil would nod off, then wake up a little later.

A few weeks before he died Phil had a job interview.  It turns out that Phil had been an engineer before an accident that left the dent in his skull and disorganized his speech due to the injury.  But when Phil wrote, his communications were crystal clear and filled with insight, especially on technical subjects.  He had gotten the interview based on his resume and email, but lost the job because of his verbal communications. He remained in the margins as 'disabled."

But Phil was actively involved in civic life in Seattle.  He was involved in the P-patch organization, which provided garden space on unused lots and space throughout Seattle to those who had no garden space of their own.  He was very active at Church with the St. Vincent De Paul Society.  He was also very active in transportation issues with the city, attending  advisory committees on transportation and city council meetings, staying abreast of all the issues with Metro bus system and the projected monorail and light rail systems.  the local politicians new that Phil had a hard time talking a straight line.  They also new that he was one of the best informed members of the public on the issues. When they didn't understand him, they knew Phil would clarify later by email.  As Phil said "I'm a policy wonk."

Once Phil offered me the Mayors email address.  I jokingly asked, is that he office email or his personal one.  His personal one Phil said.  And he wasn't kidding.

As I said he was a member of the crowd at church, but he didn't always walk with us when we would go someplace.  If several of us were walking somewhere Phil would take off and in a few minutes pop up in front of us from a side street.  You see, he was humble in outward appearance, but in fact he was really a sort of superman.  Phil, it seems, new were the wormholes were hidden and he could beat us there every time.

 Phil died suddenly and I never could find out what was wrong, I heard the flu, a heart attack, the effects of both. His relatives organized a rush funeral, about 48 hours from his death, at 7 Am in the morning, wanting to get it over with.  Most of them had left the church years before and that is why he had asked me to pray for him. The word went around by phone and email through the St Vincent De Paul society and in his social circles.  I quickly asked for the morning off from work and prepared a little obituary that I email out.  I printed more copies for the funeral.  The brother of a friend of his worked for the Seattle Times, as a transportation writer, and new about Phil's civic involvement.  He wrote an obituary for the Times. the funeral was packed at 7 Am with Phil's friends, and all day, after the obituary, the local politicians were calling the church saying, "If I had known I would have been there."

In the years since his death every once in a while I remember Phil, and remember my promise to pray for his family.  I fire up a little pray, knowing that Phil is praying much more for them than I.  then I reflect on how often when we don't know what is inside someone, we devalue them.  If only that engineering firm had known what was inside Phil.


  1. You are so right about Phil. He loved people and did his best to communicate with us, though not very effectively at times. What came across the most for me was his cheerful, eager, childlike interest in life. Was it true that the city council observed a minute of silence in his honor at one of their meetings shortly after his death?
    I'll bet he enjoyed that from his "perch" in the afterlife. Blessed Philip, pray for us.

  2. Thank you, brother, for this post. Phil was a reassuring presence at Blessed Sacrament; reassuring in the way he was an example and herald of responsible and accountable stewardship and of being "(your) brothers keeper". I was not aware of his active civic life until after he passed. What a soul he was, and even more so now, is. Let us pray for the joyful repose of his soul, and for his intentions.

  3. In answer to the question about the moment of silence, yes the city council observed a moment of silence for him.