Brad Phillips, Alaska tourism pioneer, dies at 84

Man is credited with introducing use of catamarans for tourists

Posted: Thursday, November 26, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Brad Phillips, a pioneer of Alaska tourism who launched the first cruise tours of Prince William Sound in the 1950s, has died. He was 84.

Phillips died Monday in Seattle, the Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.

Phillips founded Phillips Cruises and Tours, which remains one of Prince William Sound's most popular glacier cruise tours. He sold the business six years ago but still spent time helping with cruises.

He also served as a state senator.

"It's almost like the passing of an era with him gone," said Bob Neumann, who bought the business from Phillips.

Phillips is credited with introducing the first catamarans ever used in the U.S. to carry tourists.

"He wanted to go faster and see 26 glaciers in a day," said Matt Nichols, a Washington state boat builder who traveled with Phillips to Australia to see catamarans being built there.

On a napkin, the two friends signed a deal for Nichols to build the first of several catamarans Phillips later used to transport Alaska tourists, Nichols said.

"The guy was willing to gamble," Nichols said.

The smooth-sailing catamarans eventually caught on throughout Alaska, Hawaii and the Lower 48.

Not all of Phillips' gambles paid off. He launched a high-speed catamaran called the M/V Klondike for Yukon River tours, but it had problems getting stuck in ice and mud.

Phillips served in the Army Air Corps as a pilot before moving to Alaska. He earned a degree at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, worked at a mine and was elected to the Anchorage City Council.

He got a law degree, built a hotel and opened an insurance agency in the city. He served in the state Legislature from 1961 to 1971, including a stint as Senate president.

"I think more than anything he enjoyed telling people about the place he loved," said his daughter Toi Phillips of New York City.

Phillips remarried several months ago after outliving two previous wives.

A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage.

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