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Citizen of Never Never Land

Phillip has left a permanent brand on my heart and soul. I can’t think of him or just his name without a smile erupting on my face and any of a dozen memories exploding from our fifty years of friendship. Clearly, he has made the final pilgrimage from our world to the next but my psyche simply won’t accept that reality. He remains my East Coast allay, ever ready on a moment’s notice to give sage advice on whatever questions life happened to throw at me. He could just as easily expand on some shared adventure the two of us experienced as part of our “collective memory.”

My friendship with Phil started in our college days in 1965 at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I was Pre Med and he was Pre Law so we had no shared classes. We both somehow showed up at a meeting about starting a new fraternity on campus and became members of Phi Epsilon Pi. We started to get to know each other and at about the same time he met a young woman, Andrea, who morphed into his lifelong soulmate. She fortunately never seemed to mind Phil and my antics over the years.

Our fraternity got a house in 1967 and that is where Phil and I really became close friends. He was very intelligent and much better read than I, especially in matters of philosophy. He was into some of the European heavy hitters like Camus and Kafka and Kant. He even had a small model of Sisyphus climbing his endless stairs with a heavyweight on his back. Only Phil would have focused on the positive view of that Greek Myth with Sisyphus facing a bright new day each morning instead of the drudgery of hauling a weight back up the mountain each day.

Entering Phil’s inner sanctum was far from hearing lectures on philosophy. Phil was also into more current literature and was a big fan of Peter Pan and a joyful Science fiction and a broad array of fiction. Besides Phil’s brilliance, he embodied a childlike innocence and a genuine belief that each day was to be enjoyed, if not treasured. As a private joke, I got him some business cards with his name and the title Citizen of Never Never Land. The cards were appropriate through his entire life. He never lost his passion demanding that each day was to be enjoyed either alone or shared with family and friends.

He exposed my focused scientific brain to the wonders of literature and even got me embroiled in campus hostilities and what evolved into the Mifflin Street Riots between students and the Madison police. ( Ah, the smell of tear gas in the morning) All part of my college education compliments of Phil Mandel. Most of our time was spent studying and discussing life, liberty, and the fairer sex. We could spend hours talking in Phil”s room or at the Student Union in the Rathskeller. Even though the drinking age in Madison was 18 Phil and I were not heavy drinkers.

A major life experience that Phillip and I shared involved a 6 week trip to Europe in 1969. We started in London and headed through Amsterdam and down to Paris and eventually Marseille to Spain and back to London. This, no doubt, cemented our friendship and was a source of endless stories (some even true). We learned the secret to getting through massive crowds at London’s train station on Friday at 5 PM is to make loud unintelligible noises and the populace will let you pass. We capped the trip with a one-week return to the US on a newly outfitted studentship. This in itself was a major adventure. How would you respond to someone who only spoke with quotes from Bob Dylan songs? The rest of the students were a bit less bizarre but entertained us as well.

Phil’s most defining characteristic was his dedication to the passions in his life and unlike most of us, he actively pursued them. I can think of at least five. His most enduring passion, of course, was his dear wife, Andi. Thankfully she was generous in sharing her beau with his family and friends. His law practice and especially arbitrations Phil was passionate about. It was only when work interfered with some of his other passions that Phil decided that early retirement was for him. Not many of us would live our lives to allow for that. Fishing was also a passion for Phil since he was a boy. He absolutely loved going out on his boat either alone or with others and fishing on the Sound. Winter brought his next passion - skiing.. He would rent an apartment in Vermont and ski for several months a year. He was competitive even into his 60’s in downhill events against much younger men. He was saddened when injuries ended his ski career but moved on to other pursuits. Clearly one of those was his recent foray into being a Grandfather. I have not seen him in this role but knowing Phil I am sure he pursued this with unmatched enthusiasm. I am only sad that his grandchildren could not have the chance to ski or fish with such an amazing grandfather.

Adieu, dear Phil. Never Never land has reclaimed one of its favorite lost boys. I hope the Fishing is great in your new home. I shall miss you.


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