Widow of late Bum Phillips to teach about Godly marriage, love
By BY JENNIFER PREYSS - JLPREYSS@VICAD.COM
June 20, 2014 at 1:20 a.m.
The Rev. Larry Green, in an oversized trench coat, made his way to the front of the church that Sunday morning.
He was invited to fill in for the regular pastor, and he soon noticed he was the only African-American face in the audience.
"There are plenty of black cowboys, just not at that church," Green jested, letting out one of his trademark open-mouthed laughs.
He walked to the lectern, pausing momentarily to introduce himself to Bum and Debbie Phillips - regulars, then, of the Goliad-based Cowboy Church.
Then, he turned to the front to begin his sermon.
But before he could finish the first sentence of his lesson, he said, "Hang on, I gotta get something out of the way - I just met Bum Phillips!"
Debbie Phillips, wife of the legendary NFL football coach, laughed, remembering Green's excitement as he jumped up and down and carried on.
"The church about fell out of their chairs. . They thought it was so funny," she said, giggling. "I can't imagine how he maintained himself before that. He acted so formal."
That was the first of many faith-inspired moments Phillips shared with Green and the beginning of his presence in the couple's life.
Three years later, Green, who serves as chaplain for Hospice for South Texas, was present at Bum's Goliad ranch in the last months of his life, offering guidance and prayer until Bum's death in October. Bum was 90 years old.
"It was great to watch them interact during that time," said Green, who serves as president of Strong Families of Victoria and pastors Church of Grace in Port Lavaca and God's Church in Victoria. "They shared something special, a real special bond."
So when Green decided to host a family and faith event this month at Hospice of South Texas, he invited Debbie Phillips to be a keynote speaker.
"She is all about loving God, and she was great at showing love to Bum. They both had a strong faith, and it was clear watching them that they loved each other," he said. "As a couple, I don't think many did it better than they did."
Bum was active in ministry efforts for many years and always had an open heart for charitable causes, Phillips said, including his Christian ministry, Bum Phillips Charities.
Phillips said her late husband encouraged his family to use his name if it helped advance charitable projects any of the family members were working on, including his daughter KimAnn England's Camp Heart Sign, a nonprofit Christian ministry for deaf children and their families.
Camp Heart Sign is in the early stages of raising money for building a $2 million, 15,000 square-foot facility on the family's 250-acre ranch in Goliad.
"When you see that kind of love in your family, it stays with you," England said. "I used to joke that if Debbie ever leaves my dad, I'll kill her."
Bum's gentle spirit carried over at home, Phillips said, not only with her but also with his children and grandchildren and legions of past football players who saw Bum as a father figure.
"He just wanted to love and be loved," she said. "Our relationship was an inspiration and model to the kids."
And now that Bum has passed, Phillips said she wants to pick up where he left off and continue to be a blessing to others. Part of that journey includes talking to other families and teaching them about the importance of sticking together through tough times and national moral shifts that may exclude Christ from the center of the home.
"I think God has called me to talk about truth. Truths about our society and families and how they don't need to look perfect, but they need to be strong and show that love of God," she said. "I feel a need to teach that there is absolute truth and that truth is God's love."
Phillips and Green agreed families have been affected by weakened faith in the home and a distancing from Christian teaching.
But they emphasized families affected by divorce, separation, hurt and other growing pains are exactly the imperfect situations that can be restored by strong faith in the home.
"The way Bum was with me - that's God's love," Phillips said, tears rolling down her face. "I miss him. I really do."
At the June 27 talk, Phillips said she hopes to encourage others about the importance of strong families, however imperfect they may look on the outside.
"There is no perfect family, but God is perfect, and he loves us when we're not," she said. "I've had some time since Bum died . and at this point in my life, I just want to be out of God's way so I can be ready when he calls on me."
Green said families of all stages will be blessed by Phillips' talk, and he encouraged them to attend the speaking event.
"It's a message that everyone needs to hear, especially now," he said.