He stood out as a writer, for in his hands, even a routine news article, like this account of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade — an annual millstone for the city’s general-assignment reporters — seldom failed to delight:
“The sun was high to their backs and the wind was fast in their faces and 100,000 sons and daughters of Ireland, and those who would hold with them, matched strides with their shadows for 52 blocks,” Mr. Phillips wrote in 1961. “It seemed they marched from Midtown to exhaustion.”
Mr. Phillips joined The Times as a copy boy in November 1952, later working as a clerk on the city desk and in the Washington bureau. In 1955, he was made a cub reporter and consigned to the paper’s Brooklyn office, a dank, decrepit outfit in the borough’s nether regions.
Mr. Phillips’s account of life there, written for Times Talk, the newspaper’s house organ (“It is impossible to tell a plainclothes detective from a mugger here. You just have to wait to see what they do”) was so magnificent that his sentence was commuted to service in the main newsroom.