In his 105 years, Norman Phillips of Coila has seen more than most people.
Born and raised in Colia, Phillips has been a pillar of the community. Many consider him a father, uncle, and friend, and he is known in the community as Granddaddy Phillips or Poppa Phillips.
To honor Phillip’s legacy and life, a portion of the road, County Road 243, where he grew up will be named in honor of him.
“Everyone calls him Granddaddy or Poppa Phillips and they’re not related,” daughter Maudie Wilcoxson said. “I told him he was always a father or father-figure to someone.”
He remembered meeting his wife Eula at Black Hawk Church. The two met when Eula was 20 and he was 30 in 1944.
“We weren’t together for two months before I asked her to marry me,” he said.
Phillips said, he just knew. Wilcoxson said Eula died eight days before their 75th wedding anniversary.
His daughter and grandson, Doug Williams, reflected on things that Phillips taught them through the years.
“My dad taught us hard work, to be on time,” Wilcoxson said. “He used to tell us, ‘If you’re late, you may as well not even go.’ He taught us to stand on our word.”
“He used to say ‘When you say you’re gonna do something, do it!’” Williams said.
Phillips isn’t a man of many words, but when he talks people listen. Phillips, who’s still able to get around, can recall when the first car came to Mississippi. Phillips said he remembers when the T Model Ford was around in 1919.
“It didn’t run on gas,” Phillips said. “You could walk faster than that thing could go.”
He even remembered the first airplane in Mississippi.
A hardworking man, he worked and made a life for his family.
Phillips didn’t attend school, he worked all of his life in various jobs.
“I didn’t go to school, I went passed it,” he said. “I worked for a white woman and she taught me how to write and read.”
Wilcoxson said her dad could add numbers in his head faster than they could do them on paper.
Phillips opened up about his life more after settling outside on the porch. Wilcoxson said her father always provided for the family, holding down many jobs. He remembered hauling pulpwood, working at the school as a janitor, and driving the Head Start bus.
Watching the clouds as they rolled in while taking puffs of his cigarette, Phillips remembered his time playing baseball.
“I loved baseball. I played for seven years until I broke my arm in ’50,” Phillips said. “I was the pitcher.”
Wilcoxson said her dad loved to hunt, fish and he loved wrestling.
“I didn’t do boxing,” Phillips said. “I wasn’t messing with that. You get your head busted.”
Phillips said he would wrestle when he was younger.
“No one could get me down. I would take my legs and wrap them around them and throw them over my head.”
When asked about the fond memories he has with his grandfather, you could see Williams’ eyes light up as he talked about learning to drive.
“He was the first person to put me behind the wheel. And you couldn’t hit anything, you learned in a field,” Williams said.
He said Phillips never missed an event in his grandchildren or great-grandchildren’s lives.
“He was our chauffeur, everything,” Williams said.
Wilcoxson said her father used to drive until he fell and broke his hip in February. So, his family got him a small golf cart for him to drive around. Now, using a walker to get around, he still gets around well. A member of Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, he is still active and serves as a deacon.
Late in his life, he hit a few milestones.
“He took his first plane ride at [age] 100,” Williams said. “And he took his first solo train ride at 99 when he came to Chicago,” Wilcoxson said. “He’s really funny, and he told us ‘Don’t put me down there with all them old people, I wanna ride at the top.”
Wilcoxson said not only did her parents raise her and her five siblings, they raised three of their cousins as well. She said her family is very close as well to those in the community. She said they were the first family in the community who had a television, and there were always people over.
“You’d think it was a movie theatre,” she said, laughing.
“I think of all the way the young guys act now and how my dad raised us. He was a provider, his family came first,” Wilcoxson said.
Wilcoxson said the idea to honor her father came from her brother and sister. She said her sister, Frances Williams, contacted Supervisor Claude Fluker and got the ball rolling. Williams said the family was planning to honor his grandfather, but he was in the hospital.
“We’re looking at another date, but nothing has been set,” Williams said.
Wilcoxson said she’s thought of another date but hasn’t yet discussed it with her brothers and sisters and didn’t want to set it in stone.
“I done had some good days and some bad days, but I done lived a good life,” Phillips said.