Spirit of Oktibbeha: Starkville couple shares music with many

Robert and Lucy Phillips have shared music with Starkville for over 40 years. (Submitted photo)
Staff Writer

Robert and Lucy Phillips have been active in Starkville for decades, promoting music throughout the community for almost 40 years.

In January, the Phillips hosted 16 visitors from Nara Prefecture, Japan. The children and their mentors came to Mississippi State University to perform in the symphony's Program for Children. The young artists performed in three concerts for elementary school children in Oktibbeha County and then for the public. When the children were off stage, it was Robert and Lucy that took care of them. Shandy Phillips, their daughter, said that they housed, fed, and transported the visitors for eight days between arriving in Mississippi and heading back home.

The Phillipses have been deeply involved in the development of the Starkville/MSU Symphony. The orchestra costs around $100,000 a year in operations, Shandy said, and one way in which the Starkville/MSU Symphony raises funds is to host an annual gala, with a different theme each year.

The couple had an enormous part in running the gala for the past three years. Lucy collected all auction items, prepared forms for the items for bidding, tax forms, inventory, setting up the auction at venue, and other things here and there.
"As a pair, the couple contributed between 20 and 30 items to the auction each year," Shandy said.

The Phillips family enjoys performing with the symphony, as well. Bob has played French horn for years and Lucy helped start the Starkville Symphony Chorus.

"Robert and Lucy have spent many years enriching the lives of residents of Oktibbeha County by supporting music and cultural arts," said Joe Ray Underwood, the chair of the symphony's Programs for Children. "Lucy has taught voice at MSU and Wood College. She has also given private voice lessons."

Lucy demands excellence and has high expectations of her students and choirs, Underwood said. She teaches them and helps to build them up to the highest level of excellence they can reach. She directed "Cross-Fire,” an inter-denominational choir that visited different churches to promote the Westly Foundation.

Underwood said Lucy was the driving force behind the creation of the Starkville Symphony Chorus, alongside Robert and Elizabeth Hawkins.

After Robert retired from the MSU Department of English, the couple spent three years in Japan, where he taught English in one of the universities, Underwood said. In 2015, they suggested a group of talented children they met while in Japan come to perform for the Programs for Children program.

"Not many people would open their home for an entire week to become a rehearsal studio, home-away-from-home, dining hall, and place of refuge for visitors from another country," Underwood said. "The Phillipses showed the true spirit of Oktibbeha County through their extraordinary Southern hospitality."