May 25, 1940-August 15, 2017
For 27 years, Tom Phillips watched as history unfolded before his eyes.
He was there for Attica, Love Canal and, years later, the Lackawanna Six.
As a federal court security officer in Buffalo, the former state trooper was a front row observer to some of the region's most important trials.
Mr. Phillips, retired for the past six years, died Tuesday. He was 77.
At the time of his retirement in 2011, he was the longest-serving "bluecoat," the nickname given the blue sportcoat-wearing security officers at the U.S. District Courthouse downtown.
"You often realize you're witnessing history," he told a reporter at the time.
Born in Niagara Falls, Mr. Phillips was a Buffalo State graduate and longtime Kenmore resident who left with a nest egg of memories, most of them of the people and personalities behind the court cases.
Years later, he still talked abut the organized-crime prosecutions that captured the community's attention in the 1980s and of the mob bosses who crossed paths with him.
"They always had the best lawyers," he said. "And they were always perfect gentlemen."
For years, he was the resident courthouse historian - only U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin had more seniority - and he would fill your ears with tales of the old courtroom lions, famed defense lawyers like Harold J. Boreanaz and John W. Condon Jr.
"They were interesting to watch," Mr. Phillips said. "And, of course, Boreanaz loved to tell stories."
At the time of his retirement, the job was changing, a reflection of 9/11 and Oklahoma City.
"It's time to go," he said in 2011. "I'll miss the people, but I won't miss the commotion."
After five decades in law enforcement - 27 of them as a court security officer and 20 as a trooper, not to mention time in the U.S. Army - Mr. Phillips admitted he was ready to retire.
He also saw it as opportunity to spend more time with his 10 children and more than two dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"His life was his family," said his son, Michael, former field office director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Buffalo. "The thing he looked forward to more than anything else was hosting Sunday dinner for his kids and grandkids."
In addition to Michael, his survivors include his wife of 56 years, the former Kathleen "Mickey" Kane; five other sons, Kevin, Sean, Patrick, Robert and Thomas; four daughters, Deborah Peters, Susan Krasinski, Colleen Valovic, and Jacquelyn Adamo; three sisters, Sheila Bluff, Martha Quinlan and Kathy Mursten; four brothers, Joseph, Michael, Patrick and Daniel; and 26 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 18 at St. Paul's Catholic Church, 3215 Delaware Ave., Kenmore.