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Dr. James F. Phillips, 90, distinguished physician May 1, 1921 -- Feb. 26, 2012

Dr. James F. Phillips, a distinguished Buffalo physician in practice from 1952 until 2010, died Sunday in his Buffalo home after a brief illness. He was 90.

A dean of Buffalo doctors, Dr. Phillips had the highest scores in the nation when he graduated from the University of Buffalo Medical School in 1947.

In the mid-1970s, he was president of the medical staff at Buffalo General Hospital. He was a longtime clinical professor of medicine at UB and a former member of the University Council.

Dr. Phillips entered private practice in 1952 with the late Dr. William Lipp, joining the Buffalo Medical Group in 1979.

Though he had numerous patients from Buffalo's foremost families, he was known for his egalitarian nature. He once said his favorite patient was an underprivileged man who, asked if he wanted a flu shot, responded, "Doctor, you be the doctor."

Involved with the United Way, he founded the Health Care Project for the unemployed and uninsured. For this effort, Gov. Mario Cuomo presented him the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Service Award.

Born in West Seneca, Dr. Phillips raised eight children with his wife, Marce, a nurse he met at Buffalo General Hospital.

In his youth, he was a skilled dancer and would enter jitterbug contests when he needed money, because he often won.

As a young man, he had worked as an usher at the Hippodrome, the old movie theater in downtown Buffalo. He joked that he was "doctor to the stars" because he would treat the artists who played the Town Casino.

Dr. Phillips' office was famous for its museum-quality display of antique drug bottles.

He also collected classic cars and especially prized a 1921 Templar, a 1925 Buick and a long, jet black 1949 Chrysler.

"He used to drive the Chrysler every day to work in the summer," his daughter Margaret recalled. "Everybody knew Dad was coming because he would be driving that thing."

Dr. Phillips' medical career had an unusual start. After graduating from Fosdick-Masten Park High School in 1938, he was one trimester short of his bachelor's degree at Canisius College when he was drafted. The Army, in need of doctors, placed him immediately in the UB School of Medicine.

That left him with no college diploma, a glitch corrected in 1978 when Canisius College gave him one.

Survivors include his wife of 57 years, the former Marcella "Marce" Beaty; and five daughters, Gretchen Krackow, Katie Kenney, Margaret, Marcella, and Mary; and three sons, James F. III, Dr. Matthew Phillips and Michael.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Michael Catholic Church, 651 Washington St.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman