William Phillips, Former 4-Term County Supervisor, Dead at 72

Times Staff Writer

William J. Phillips, a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors from 1957 to 1973, died Wednesday in Fullerton after a 10-year struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 72.

Phillips, known for his support of John Wayne Airport, served four terms on the board representing the 3rd District.

As a supervisor, Phillips’ often fiery style earned him political enemies but always seemed to endear him with his district’s voters. They returned him to office three consecutive times.

But the supervisor’s political style apparently caught up with him during his bid for a fifth term. Phillips was soundly defeated by Ralph A. Diedrich, then a Fullerton city councilman, who employed a $100,000-plus campaign to defeat the longtime political patriarch.


(After ousting Phillips, riding a ticket that promised to get rid of the “old school” of county politics, Diedrich was later to be convicted of soliciting a bribe from a developer and of hiding the source of campaign contributions. Diedrich resigned in 1979 and served a prison term that ended with his parole in 1983.)

Phillips, who worked on experimental aircraft at Lockheed Corp. during World War II, maintained an interest in aviation throughout his life. He is often credited with helping turn what was a dusty old military airport into what is now John Wayne Airport. Family members described him as a leading proponent of highway, airport and airspace planning for the county.

He was a past president of the Southern California Aviation Council and a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He also served as a member of the President’s Commission on Science and Technology, working in the area of jet noise abatement.

Phillips was a 50-year resident of Orange County. His public service included chairing a committee on air and water pollution and solid waste disposal for the National Assn. of County Officials.


Phillips is survived by his wife, Grace M. Phillips of Fullerton; children Pamela Brosnan of Santa Rosa, William J. Phillips II of Sebastopol, Stephanie J. Carvalho of La Habra and Jeffrey C. Phillips of Santa Rosa, and 10 grandchildren.

His family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be forwarded to the Alzheimer’s Assn. of Orange County. Public services for Phillips will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fullerton.