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FairfaxFairfax officials mourn loss of former Dranesville supervisor

Fairfax officials mourn loss of former Dranesville supervisor

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Former Dranesville District Supervisor Rufus Phillips III (D), who had served in the U.S. Army and later with the Central Intelligence Agency, died Dec. 29, 2021, at age 92 from complications of pneumonia.

A longtime McLean resident, Phillips was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1971 and served until 1975, said Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) at the board’s Jan. 25 meeting.

“He was an amazing guy, a nice guy,” Foust said. “With his broad smile and capacity to listen, Rufus connected with people of all backgrounds, races and cultures.”

Phillips was born in Middletown, Ohio, on Aug. 10, 1929, and grew up in rural Virginia, according to a 1995 oral-history interview conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.


Phillips attended Woodberry Forest School in Virginia and studied psychology and history at Yale University, graduating in 1951.

According to the U.S. Army’s Officer Candidate School Alumni Association, Phillips was commissioned an Army second lieutenant in November 1953, graduated from Airborne School, was posted to Korea and soon afterward was assigned to the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Saigon, Vietnam. Phillips had been approached by the CIA in college and later joined the agency.

“He had a distinguished career with the CIA,” Foust said, saying that Phillips joined the agency after finishing one semester at the University of Virginia Law School. “In 1955, he served as the sole adviser to two Vietnamese-army pacification operations, earning the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit.”

In early 1963, Phillips advised President Kennedy that, contrary to military reports, efforts to counter the communist insurgency in South Vietnam were going poorly, Foust said.

In the oral-history interview, Phillips said he corrected another aide’s assertions and told Kennedy, “I’m sorry to tell you, Mr. President, but we are not winning the war.”

The conversation was “a remarkable moment in the American bureaucracy, a moment of intellectual honesty,” wrote David Halberstam in his book, “The Best and the Brightest,” Foust said.

Phillips described the Vietnam endeavors in his book, “Why Vietnam Matters: An Eye-Witness Account of Lessons Not Learned.”

Not all of the memories were pleasant. Phillips, in the oral-history interview, recalled discussing with President of South Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem the likelihood that there would be a coup against him. Diem was assassinated shortly afterward on Nov. 1, 1963.

Three weeks later, Phillips was en route back to the U.S. three weeks when President Kennedy was assassinated.

After his service in the Vietnam War, which included assignments in Laos, Phillips served as president of Inter-Continental Consultants Inc.

While serving a single term on the Board of Supervisors, Phillips led the development of the county’s planning-and-land-use system, an effort that led Washingtonian magazine to name him a Washingtonian of the Year in 1976, Foust said.

Phillips is pictured in Carole Herrick’s book “Legendary Locals of McLean.” An April 1974 image shows him behind the controls of a bulldozer at the McLean Community Center’s construction site.

Another photo depicts him cutting the ribbon at the center’s dedication on Oct. 19, 1975, along with former Gov. Linwood Holton, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jean Packard, McLean Community Center Governing Board Chairman Joan DuBois and former Franklin Sherman School principal Charlotte Troughton Corner.

“He was a very kind gentleman,” Herrick recalled. “Rufus and his wife were kind of a duo. They were very active in promoting the community and keeping it a community.”

Phillips ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1974 and U.S. Senate in 1977.

In 2009, Phillips spent his 80th birthday in Afghanistan, where he was a volunteer helping the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan during that country’s presidential election, Foust said.

Phillips’ wife of 59 years, Barbara, died in February 2020 at age 85. They had met in El Salvador in 1960 and married three months later. She made an unsuccessful run for Dranesville District supervisor in 1999, losing to Republican Stuart Mendelsohn.

Phillips is survived by four children – Rufus Phillips IV, Anne Phillips Schelle, Edward Dean Phillips and Patricia Phillips Shields – and several grandchildren.

Phillips was the fourth former Dranesville District supervisor to die in recent years. Nancy Falck died in April 2019 at age 89, Lilla Richards died September 2020 at age 81 and Ernest Berger died three days later that same month at age 88.

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