Cover photo for Peter Ashley Philips's Obituary
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1937 Peter 2023

Peter Ashley Philips

October 18, 1937 — March 12, 2023


Dr. Peter Ashley Philips, 85, passed away on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at St. Luke Extended Care in Ronan, Montana.

Peter was born on October 18, 1937, in New Rochelle, New York to Dr. Milton and Sylvia Philips. He grew up in Mt. Vernon, New York with his parents and two sisters, Alice and Ellen. He attended Horace Mann School in Bronx, New York and then Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.

He went on to attend medical school at New York Medical College in New York City where he received is MD. He completed an internship at Bellevue Hospital, America’s oldest public hospital located in the city, and his residency at University Hospital for Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montifiore Medical Center in Bronx.

In 1971, Peter left New York with his wife, Elin, and son, Michael, to pursue a career in cardiac surgery at City of Hope in Duarte, California outside of Los Angeles. In 1973, he was offered and accepted a cardiac-thoracic fellowship under the esteemed Dr. Denton Cooley in Houston, Texas at the Texas Heart Institute.

Peter and Elin had two more children, David and Fleur, before they moved the family to Missoula, Montana in 1976 where Peter continued his cardiology practice and cardiac surgery at St. Patrick’s Hospital. In 1978, Peter and Elin welcomed their fourth and final child, Peter Edward.

Peter had a passion for horses and wide-open spaces, and as a teenager, fell in love with Montana after spending a summer at a ranch in Red Lodge. He became an avid horseman and hiker, making the Bob Marshall Wilderness (and the Grand Canyon, Arizona) two of his favorite places to disappear. On Flathead Lake, he also embraced his love of sailing and shared it with his family, including numerous trips to Puget Sound in Seattle where he kept his beloved Ericson 34, Sostjernen. He would later continue exploring the Puget Sound and surrounding areas on his Grand Banks 42 Classic, Woodwind – even taking it all the way to Alaska and back.

Peter finished his medical career in Polson at the Western Montana Clinic. He would later make the decision – at 72 years old – to return to school to fulfill a lifelong dream.

As a young man, he’d wanted nothing more than to become an actor and a writer, but his decision to pursue medicine instead came from the gentle nudge of a theater great – Paul Newman himself. While attending Kenyon College (Newman’s Alma Mater), Peter was awarded the Paul Newman Trophy and invited to New York City to meet Mr. Newman backstage following a Broadway performance. Peter shared his desire to be an actor with Mr. Newman, who responded by asking Peter if he knew anyone in Hollywood, of which he responded, no. Mr. Newman then went on to say, “If you can be happy doing anything else, do anything else.” Thus, Peter went on to become Dr. Peter Philips.

In 2008, Peter moved back to Missoula and became one of the oldest of the University of Montana’s student body to enroll in a Master’s Program, going on to receive his Master of Arts in Theater from the University in May, 2015. But that was just the beginning. A devout follower of the life and works of Tennessee Williams, Peter decided to continue his education and received his Doctorate in Philosophy in December, 2021 at the age of 84. His dissertation? Tennessee Williams: The Characters Are The Playwright.

Prior to returning to the U of M, and while pursuing his MA and PhD, Peter took on many theatrical roles in plays put on at the Missoula Children’s Theater, the Port Polson Players, and the University of Montana’s School of Theatre and Dance. Some of those plays include, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Odd Couple, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Fiddler on the Roof, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, You Can’t Take It With You, White Christmas, Cherry Orchard, and many more.

In addition to theater, Peter had a love of classical music (he was a professionally-trained classical pianist), the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Yankees, long drives in his convertible BMW Z3 to Virginia City and down through Yellowstone National Park, the early Hill Street Blues series, Civil War history, Western bronzes and art by Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington, Dairy Queen Dilly Bars, the Harry Potter series (of which he read the entire collection more than once), Star Wars, Looney Tunes (ask his patients about his tie collection), and most importantly, his four children and six grandchildren.

Peter is preceded in death by his parents, and his sister, Alice Philips.

He is survived by his sister, Ellen (Peter) Donshik of Sarasota, Florida; and his children, Michael (Jennie) Philips of Bellevue, Washington; David (Melissa) Philips of Eureka, California; Peter (Jin) Philips of Armonk, New York; and Fleur Philips of Fort Worth, Texas; and his grandchildren, Jacob, Madeline, Hannah, Zachary, Mabel, and Spencer.

There will be a Celebration of Life for Peter later this spring or summer at the University of Montana, School of Theatre and Dance.
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Peter Ashley Philips, please visit our flower store.


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