“A big-hearted man with a big problem” were the words Tina Francis used to describe her father, Charlie Phillips.
He was killed in an accident last week. According to Trooper Kevin Cook with the Alabama Department of Public Safety, “A crash at 6:10 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 26, involving a passenger vehicle and a bicycle claimed the life of an Atmore man. Charlie Phillips, 61, was operating a bicycle when he was struck by a 1996 Chevrolet driven by Rodney Brooks, 46, also of Atmore. The crash occurred on U.S. 31 at the 35-mile marker, five miles south of Atmore.”
Charlie was a fixture around town, often seen riding his bike along the streets of Atmore. Most people have seen Charlie, but few took the time to really get to know him. Charlie was friendly and kind, would speak to anyone, but he struggled with an alcohol problem that led to a lifestyle most people didn’t understand.
Charlie was born in Atmore in 1952, one of 11 children born to Charles and Ruby Phillips. His family settled in Little River where farming provided for their needs. Charlie’s father drove a produce truck and worked with other farmers.
Charlie never finished school, choosing to drop out in eighth grade.
“He married my mom when she was 14 in 1971,” Tina said. “They settled in Perdido and I came along in 1972. He worked in construction and was an excellent carpenter. He could build anything.”
Tina said the alcohol entered the picture when she was about five years old. Her parents split in 1984 when she was 12 and she and her sister Regina, Charlie’s second daughter, moved to Atmore with their mother.
“For several years we didn’t see him,” Tina said. “I don’t know what happened to him in those years. Then in 1998 he came back into our lives.”
Charlie would often stay with friends and family, but also chose to spend time camping in the woods around Atmore. He did have frequent encounters with law enforcement due to his drinking, but even then the person he was shown through.
“When he was sober, he would help out,” Atmore Public Safety Director Glenn Carlee said. “He was a good worker and a good man. People need to remember Charlie.”
The following paragraph was included in a message from the family which was read at the funeral: “And to the many public service officers, especially the Atmore Police Department – thank you so much. It may sound crazy to thank the folks that constantly harassed an innocent man (we say that tongue in cheek) but you have helped us find him when we hadn’t heard from him, and keep track of him when it was cold, and you have given him a place to stay just like in the days of Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry. You have treated him like family to the extent that you let us use the back of the jail for our back porch to visit with him during those extended stays. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
The Rev. Arnold Hendrix, Atmore First Baptist Church, once saw a side of Charlie most people never saw.
“There was one occasion where I saw in Mr. Phillips both street smarts, and tenderheartedness. He was outside our office when one of our older ladies tripped and fell in the parking lot. She had hit her nose on one of those cement parking lot markers, and was bleeding – and with several people around – the only one who know what to do – the one who took immediate charge – was Mr. Phillips. ‘We need to stop this bleeding.’ He barked out orders to those around. ‘Go get a clean cloth.’ ‘We’ll need some water.’ ‘Bring me this. Bring me that.’ And we who had gathered around watched as this man, rough around the edges, became every bit of a gentlemen and very tenderly, and very gently, cleaned up her wound, and patted it dry until the bleeding stopped – the whole time reassuring her that everything would be fine. He then helped her up, and into her car. Back on his bicycle – he was gone. I think even Tina was amazed to see her father in this way. He told us that he got his medical training from being a medic in Vietnam. No, he got his medical training on the street – helping others, and being helped from time to time himself. But what thrust him into action was a tender heart of compassion.”
Charlie kept in contact with his daughters no matter what the situation.
“In the midst of all of his issues, he stayed in constant contact with us,” Tina said. “Almost every day he would check in. He loved us.”
She said that her father loved Atmore and its residents too.
“He was just like family to everyone,” Tina said. “He was a good-hearted man.”