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Father’s Day Reflections

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Katharine L’Heureux’s father, William Robert Phillips, 1950s

This Father’s Day, I’m taking a moment to reflect on my own father and how his life and values shaped me and ultimately my business.

My father’s life is patched together for me in the bits and pieces of his life as he has shared it through stories told around the dinner table: raised in New Orleans, Korean war hero, stock broker, vintner. A modest man, but an engaging storyteller, his stories usually downplayed his own starring role. In his version, he is a Forest Gumpian figure – unwittingly turning hapless events to his advantage. I hope he will forgive me for any inaccuracies I’ve made in the retelling, and for condensing his full life to a blog post.

W. Robert Phillips was born and raised in New Orleans in the shadow of three larger than life uncles, Sydney, Morris and Armant LeGendre – handsome football stars, sought after bachelors and war heroes from New Orleans. His family eventually moved from New Orleans to the Bay Area in California, where my father attended Stanford University and continued the legacy of his uncles.

From there he was drafted to serve in the Korean War, where, by his own account, he mistakenly blew up a munitions dump and performed several other acts of heroism for which he was awarded a bronze star.

Then the dizzying years of marrying my mother, raising a family, and pursuing a career as a stockbroker, all while getting up at 5 AM every morning to exercise (rowing in the SF Bay or running) and squeezing in the sanctioned-at-the-time three-martini lunch. He did it all to perfection, and moved swiftly up the corporate ladder. But, ultimately, he wanted a simpler life.

At the age of 55, my father was presented with a choice to move to New York with his firm or to move to the Napa Valley and take over the family vineyard on the passing of my grandmother.  He chose the latter, dropping off the treadmill at a time when few others were entertaining such “quality of life” options.  As I look now at the former Wall Streeters dropping out to start their own businesses, it seems he was way ahead of his time.

In the Napa Valley, W. Robert (known as Bob) took a neglected piece of land filled with potential, and turned it into one of the most sought after producers of cabernet sauvignon in the region, forming solid relationships with some of the best wineries in California and nurturing farm laborers and becoming an active land preservationist in the process. His modesty never gave him the desire to be the face behind the wine, instead choosing the farmer’s role and selling his grapes to his neighbors.

As I think about my father and his life, I see the constant thread of his moral fiber directing its course. I am thankful for the gifts he has, hopefully, passed on to me – a love of the land, a compassion for others, the fearlessness to follow a dream, and most importantly, an ability to laugh at myself.

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Katharine and Bob enjoying a Napa lunch, 2011

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