Asian historian (and singer) retires
The large numbers of colleagues and well-wishers from throughout the Faculty of Arts and beyond who attended the retirement function for Dr Richard Phillips (School of Asian Studies) in early March may have expected some musical element to grace the event.
What was notable was that the music was presented by the guest of honour himself, an accomplished tenor. Accompanied on the piano by the School of Music’s James Tibbles, Richard sang songs from Europe, including his native Wales (in Welsh), China and Korea. An historian of China, Richard has recently studied Korean language. Those who spoke at the reception attempted to sum up the manifest contributions that Richard has made to the University and more widely over a career at Auckland spanning 37 years.
Former Dean of Arts and Head of History, Emeritus Professor Nicholas Tarling took credit for recruiting Richard in London in 1975, fresh from completing a doctorate at Cambridge, including a stint as a visiting scholar at Harvard. As soon as he arrived in Auckland to lecture in the History Department, Richard began contributing to the work of the newly formed New Zealand Asian Studies Society. He managed to combine his academic and musical interests in providing entertainment at NZASIA meetings: “Those who came to the conferences would sometimes be surprised to find a singing Secretary.” Active as tenor soloist in Auckland ensembles, including Bach Musica, Richard has been in demand for parts in Handel operas, Easter oratorios and more modern works. Gilbert and Sullivan featured in the retirement performance.
In their remarks, Dr Paul Taillon (History) and Professor Manying Ip and Dr Hilary Chung (Asian Studies) noted the strong sense of service that has driven Richard’s work at The University of Auckland. His sense of responsibility and ability to get things done are legendary. In 2000 he moved from History to become the inaugural Head of the School of Asian Studies, serving in that capacity for two three-year terms. Colleagues are warmly appreciative of the care and support for staff and students that he brought to these and other roles. Students in his classes on Chinese history, New Zealand’s relations with Asia, and the rise of East and Southeast Asia speak fondly of his attention to their progress and understanding.