As long as his friends have known him, attorney Ted Phillips been a volunteer of spectacular scope.
“He’s probably done as much pro bono work as he’s done regular work,” said Todd Postler, owner of the Wireless Zone stores in Norwich and Lisbon, and incoming chairman of the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce. “There’s probably no one I know who gives as much in the legal field.”
Or has done as much to support local businesses and organizations.
A decade ago, Phillips and a few others, including Postler, essentially founded the local chamber. At that time, “Ted was chairman of the board and we didn’t have a hired staff and it was volunteer,” Postler said, adding that Phillips would put in 20 to 30 hours a week at the chamber while operating his own small law firm, Theodore Phillips II Attorney at Law, in Norwich.
Though he’s no longer head of the chamber, Philips was recently in the news for an unusual effort to support local businesses. It’s a spin-off of the culturally hip flash mobs, which consist of a bunch of people arranging to go to a specific public place at a specific time and — to the surprise of passersby — giving a spontaneous performance.
Phillips, however, organized a “cash mob” to support small businesses. He acknowledged that similar events have been conducted elsewhere, but originality was less important to Phillips than giving a financial “shot in the arm” to local business owners.
In October, the first “cash mob” descended upon the Surplus Unlimited store in Norwich. Performers offered a dance routine and then purchased items. “We got applause and whistles,” said Phillips, referring to the audience reaction. “I bought a couple of erector sets for [kids].”
The group later did an encore at Norwich’s Olde Tymes Restaurant, which was equally well-received. “The assistant manager was blown away. Only the owner knew about it,” Phillips said.
More cash mobs are planned. “So many people have given me good feedback on those things,” Postler said. “The cash mob was [originally] someone else’s idea, but Ted grabbed hold of it and ran with it.”
Phillips traces his civic involvement to his parents, who both died this year. His father, a dentist, served for a decade on the board of the Oits Library in Norwich. His mother was active in the American Cancer Society.
Philllips, who was born and raised in Norwich, was an honors student at Norwich Free Academy, graduating in 1974. Today, he is a corporator of the Norwich Free Academy, and vice chair of the Board of Trustees.
“We believe in giving back to a community that is so good to us,” said Phillips, who is married and has six children. “I’m very blessed to be in a position to be able to give back to the community.”
Phillips is past director of Easter Seals of Southeastern Connecticut, where he worked on two telethons. He is past director of the Business and Industry Foundation of Eastern Connecticut. He is a past president of the library’s Board of Trustees. He is a corporator of the William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich.
He volunteered as a work crew to clean up downtown Norwich before the first Chelsea Street Festival. He served on the city’s Commission that oversaw the Masonic Temple property until it was transferred to the Mohegan tribe. Though his legal practice focuses on commercial and probate law, real estate and civil litigation, he annually donates more than $20,000 in legal services to churches, non-profits organizations, low-income clients and children in need.
And, of course, he has done free legal work for the Chamber of Commerce he helped to launch.
And that’s just part of the list.
“I think the guy sleeps four hours a night,” Postler said. “We had to go over some [chamber] bylaws once and I said to Ted, ‘I’m not doing anything at 3 a.m..’” Postler was joking, but Phillips “was ready to meet me at that time,” Postler said, laughing.
Postler said his friend is sort of a throwback to a time when people had different values, noting that Phillips and his bride even honeymooned at Disneyland. “He’s a good husband and a good role model,” Postler said. “He’s got this nostalgia about him. He’s just got this wonder and amazement about him.”
“Ted is someone who is compelled to give back to the community,” said Andre Messier, a certified public accountant and another founding member of the Chamber of Commerce. “I think he has this inner compulsion to give and he has demonstrated that over the years.”
From time to time, Postler said, he and others have tried to bestow awards or honors on Phillips.
“Some people like the recognition. Literally, he shuns it,” Postler said. “When his name comes up to be honored, he’s like, ‘Can you find someone else?’”•