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'Loc' Phillips, Who Guided His Family's Art Museum, Dies

Adam Bernstein

Laughlin "Loc" Phillips, who helped revive his family's venerable contemporary art museum, the Phillips Collection, died Jan. 24 at his home in Washington, Conn. He was 85 and had left his home in the District a few years ago.

Known as "Loc," Mr. Phillips was in his 40s before he took on a leadership role at the museum. He had served in Army intelligence during World War II and spent his early career with the Central Intelligence Agency, including stints in Saigon and Tehran, before starting Washingtonian with a friend from the clandestine agency. He sold the publication in 1979 to devote himself to the museum, which he called "a family responsibility" that had deteriorated markedly.

My obit, which will appear shortly, goes into great detail about Mr. Phillips's role at the museum. I did not have a lot of space to describe what he did at Washingtonian. So here's some of what I had to leave out, for those who want a quick summary of his role at the monthly publication.

He said he started Washingtonian after growing weary of his CIA career. Washingtonian was one of the country's first "city" magazines, with lifestyle features, art criticism, profiles of notable residents.

The magazine's longtime editor, Jack Limpert, told me that Mr. Phillips emphasized stories about architecture, art and design, and used the magazine to convey "how the city could be better and look better." He hired writers such as Art Buchwald for humor pieces and architect Arthur Cotton Moore, who later designed the Phillips Collection's Goh Annex, for articles and criticism about the city's growth and appearance.

Limpert said Mr. Phillips's strengths were not on the business side. Although circulation grew upward of 80,000, the publication lost several million dollars over the years Mr. Phillips was publisher, Limpert said. Intending to devote his full time to the family's museum, Mr. Phillips sold Washingtonian in 1979 for more than $3 million to Annapolis newspaper publisher Philip Merrill.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on Mr. Phillips's career in journalism or in museum administration. The Phillips is often regarded as a small jewel among modern art enthusiasts, and he spent decades trying to update and expand it.

By Adam Bernstein  |  January 25, 2010; 7:13 PM ET
Categories:  Adam Bernstein  
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Washington is forever in his debt for his role in making the city a more sophisticated place. He is a person who took his role in city life seriously and we're all the better for it.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 26, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

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