Philip Van Rensselaer Livingston -- Doing what he really loved, being on the water, Philip V.R. Livingston, the “best dad ever,” left us far too soon.
If life is the dash between the two dates on one’s headstone, the dash cannot be large enough to capture Phil’s 89 years.
Phil was born in Hewlett, N.Y. He attended Mepham High School, Bellmore, N.Y. and graduated with the Class of 1947. While at Mepham, Phil set an AAU backstroke record that stood for six decades and was an ocean lifeguard on Jones Beach, Long Island. He also started flying, first soloing in a seaplane and earning a private pilot license, both land and sea. Phil was an active member of Merrick Fire Department Hook & Ladder Company No. 1. He honed his mechanical skills at Gus’ Esso (and later Texaco) on Sunrise Highway, Merrick; but probably, one of Phil’s most favorite past-times was sailing and just being on the water.
On New Year’s Eve 1948, Phil and his beloved Phillys were wed at The Church of the Redeemer in Merrick. They did what they would do many times in their 69 years of marriage, they moved — this time to Tuscaloosa, Ala. where Phil attended the University of Alabama. Later he would enroll at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y. He earned his bachelor of science in business. Shortly after graduation, Phil began what was to be a long career in sales, as a salesman for Shell Oil covering Long Island and Connecticut.
Phil’s sales career was placed on hold when he was offered the opportunity to serve our country and began FBI Special Agent training. He became fluent in Russian. His specialty would be counter espionage. Back in the early days, he took his kids on counter espionage assignments – just to make it appear he was a dad out with his boys. Future FBI assignments moved his family to Cincinnati, Ohio, Hammond, Ind. and Chicago, Ill.
Phil left the Bureau while in Chicago, packed up again, moved the family to New Orleans and became a salesman for Sanford Ink Company, Bellwood, Ill. He had such a wonderful way with people. Have you ever heard of the “Sharpie” felt-tipped pen or “Mr. Sketch” markers with flavored scents? Phil was with Sanford when the Sharpie was invented. He sold more Sharpies than anyone in the company. The Mr. Sketch scents were developed in his kitchen sink with the help of his local pharmacist. For Sanford he covered Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and parts of five other states. He drove the entire territory, often two weeks at a time – unless he was flying his territory. In the summer he’d take one of his kids with him for a two week trip. It was a terrific, memorable time!
Best of all, while in New Orleans, he bought a Lightning sloop. Actually, he bought a slip in a marina and in that slip was a run down, half sunk Lightning. It took a while, but he and the boys rebuilt that boat from the keel up. When finished, three ribs and the hull planks were all that remained of the original boat. The effort was a tremendous carpentry and boat-building experience for his kids. They spent many hours on Lake Pontchartrain sailing “We Five.”
Sanford moved Phil and the family (and “We Five”) back “home” to Long Island. He would later leave Sanford to become an independent sales representative. Phil was well-known at art and school supply conventions. For several years he chaired the School Art Supply Association.
The family probably spent thousands of hours plying the waters of the Long Island Sound. Phil’s boys grew and he encouraged them to sail “We Five” solo. Eventually, “We Five” was replaced by “Trinity,” a six-meter sloop. Such wonderful fun!
About 30 years ago, Phil and his beloved Phillys packed up for the last (and 14th) time and settled in Blades Harbour – with a dock right outside their door on the Nanticoke River. Pretty close to Heaven! The family now included grandkids, who loved to spend time on the river, particularly with their Dad Dad.
The only thing more important than his family and sailing was Phil’s faith in God. Virtually a life-long Lutheran, for many years Phil was president of the national Lutheran Layman’s League. He and Phillys always remained very active in their church.
Phil became a free-lance photographer and writer for the Seaford Star because he had photos and information he wanted to share. He was always everywhere around town anyway and seemed to be in the “right” place with the “right” photos.
Phil and Phillys were active founders of the Woodland Ferry Festival. For many years they grew and expanded the Festival into an event attended by folks from states away.
Immediately after moving to Seaford, Phil identified a significant community need – there was no boat marina. Soon, he was a founding member of the Blades Economic Development Corporation (BEDCO) and was the driving force behind BEDCO eventually opening the Nanticoke River Marine Park. Phil spent more than five years as a Nanticoke River Yacht Club officer, retiring as Commodore.
Phil wanted to share his love of the arts, so he organized the Community Concert series at the Seaford High School. The series drew 1,200 people to a wide variety of concerts and performances enjoyed by the entire community.
The Marine Park, Woodland Festival, free-lancing at Seaford Star, Community Concerts were all big deals, but no deal was bigger than substitute teaching. For more than 25 years he was a substitute teacher at Seaford High School and the Woodbridge School District. To say he was loved by his students and the staff would be a huge understatement. In 2011, Phil’s students voted him to present the graduation commencement address and he was selected Substitute Teacher of the Year. More recently, the Seaford Board of Education awarded Phil the Friends of the Board of Education Award. Better than the “Friends Award” was that “Grandfather Blue Jay’s” students always referred to themselves as his “troops.” Any one of them can tell you about the bear on Seaford Mountain or the missing teacher riding down the Nanticoke with his thumbs stuck in the alligator’s ears who was last seen headed to Portugal or the absent teacher flying over Canada dropping corn to the geese. Raise your hand if you’re talking.
Together, Phil and Phillys created a wonderful home, reared their three boys and welcomed their three daughters-in-love. Dad and Mom were always there for their kids (who always felt terrifically supported) and they modeled an unbelievably loving relationship – and constantly seemed to be holding hands.
More than anything, Phil enjoyed his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Dad Dad and Mom Mom always attended their activities – sporting events, theatrical productions and ceremonies. They made family vacations fun. Relishing time together, he loved and was loved deeply by his wife, children and grandchildren.
All of this, and more, made Phil’s dash huge.
Phil was preceded in death by his parents, Thaddeus Anderson and Grace Etta (née Finch).
Left to celebrate his life and legacy are his loving wife, Phillys Rae (née Clas); his twin brother, Robert DeWitt; his children: Thaddeus Ancram (Katherine), Philip Finch (Karen) and Keith Richard (Katherine); his grandchildren: Caroline Grace Herrera (Hector), Thaddeus Andrew (Erica), Jean Louise, Schuyler Van Rensselaer, Philip Lyman and Robert Anderson; and his great-grandchildren: Steele Ancram Herrera and Armando Jaymes Herrera.
Friends may call Friday, March 9, between 4 and 8 p.m., at Cranston Funeral Home, 300 N. Shipley St., Seaford. Phil’s life will be celebrated at Seaford High School Auditorium at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 10. Interment will be private.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Phil’s name to Christ Lutheran Church, 315 N. Shipley St., Seaford, DE 19973.
Cranston’s Funeral Home