September was a month of remarkable milestones for Keith Phillips Jr.
The East Ridge resident reached the extraordinary age of 100 on Sept. 9, joining the exclusive ranks as a centenarian, a feat that only 1 percent of the United States population has achieved.
Phillips was joined by his son Keith Phillips III and daughter-in-law Angela for a party in his honor at the community. He also was recognized at the life plan community’s monthly birthday night.
Fittingly, his birthday cake was adorned in University of Miamicolors and a football. A University of Miami alumnus, Phillips is an avid alumni supporter and served as president of the alumni club. When he attended the university, he was president of the freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior classes, and started the Sigma Chi fraternity on campus.
Prior to attending the University of Miami, Phillips served in the Navy in the Philippines, where he was an aviation supply officer and is a World War II veteran.
A personal trait guiding Phillips during his life has been a commitment to community service. Phillips’ son, Keith, explained that it is his dad’s personality to try to please everyone, and this mediation skill served him well during an eight-year tenure on the Coral Gables City Commission and as mayor of Coral Gables from 1971 to 1972. He also ran an independent insurance agency for 40 years.
Among his notable accomplishments during his years in city government was controlling growth by finding common ground between residents of the city and developers, and saving the historic Biltmore Hotel.
According to Phillips’ son, the Coco Plum area became very controversial and residents were up in arms, fighting high-density high-rise development. In an election, almost everyone was thrown off the city council except for Phillips. He weathered the storm by agreeing that if the residents wanted single-family residential rather than high-rise development, then the area would be zoned for single-family homes.
The Biltmore Hotel was another memorable accomplishment during his tenure. The hotel had been used as a VA Hospital but stood shuttered and vacant for many years when the VA moved to Downtown Miami. The City of Coral Gables owned the golf course but not the hotel. Phillips contacted President Richard Nixon and asked that the hotel be given to the City of Coral Gables. He went to Washington, DC, to meet with government officials about his proposal, which was accepted.
Although he was no longer mayor, the then-mayor asked him to accept the deed since his work had culminated in the deed transfer. The ceremony took place in front of the hotel and Julie Nixon came to Coral Gables and presented Phillips with the deed.
Unfortunately, the hotel continued to sit unoccupied for 8-10 years. Phillips was asked to head a blue-ribbon panel to determine the property’s highest and best use. At his suggestion, the city would retain the ownership of the property and enter into long-term lease agreements for the hotel’s use.
His son believes his dad exemplifies the qualities of a good politician, especially in his ability to find common ground between opposing sides. For example, Phillips supported the city’s vision for strict zoning regulations to maintain its reputation as “The City Beautiful.”
Over the years, Phillips has enjoyed summers in the North Carolina mountains, playing golf and traveling the country by motorhome, and a hobby of photography.
Love of family is another personal trait of Phillips and a firm belief in and dedication to Christian faith and ideals.
To reach the extraordinary milestone of becoming a centenarian, Phillips attributes this accomplishment to clean living and respect for everyone. He acknowledges an occasional “toddy for the body” as well.