Friends of Tryon Creek lost a dear friend and an outstanding leader in June when Phil Hamilton passed away.
Phil is remembered for his many qualities. Loyal and energetic. Steadfast and consistent. Witty and quiet. Welcoming and cantankerous. And maybe most importantly, he was a steward of a place that belongs to all of us.
Phil came to Tryon in the early 1990s after retiring from a career with the Bureau of Land Management. He logged more than 24,000 hours organizing stewardship teams and caring for the park. He spent his career working throughout the West for the BLM. He and his family settled in Portland and he spent the last 19 years of his career working on land use plans and environmental impact statements in Oregon and Washington. His ability to be meticulous about such plans proved invaluable for what could be called his second career as a volunteer on the Friends of Tryon Creek Stewardship Committee. Phil received numerous awards during his 25 years of generosity.
John Mullen, former park manager at Tryon Creek, often consulted Phil when making natural resource plans. “He knew more than anyone else and he knew what needed to be done,” he says. It’s a high calling, John says, to spend your life doing ecological restoration work on public land. “Ivy has the ability to reduce the forest to a single understory species. Eliminate it and it can become a healthy system, much stronger in diversity. What Phil and his cohorts provided is a chance for native plants to compete and flourish.”
“Phil’s dedication was an extension of who he was and how he lived,” John says. “He didn’t look at what still needed to be done, he looked at what plants and animals were coming back in the restored areas.”
Phil encouraged a team of stewards that constantly changed over the years. He welcomed school groups, volunteers from local businesses, people doing community service and friends of the park. “Day after day he was out there working. You can measure the acres and the hours, but you can’t measure the hearts he touched,” John says. “I can’t think of Tryon without thinking of Phil.”
Diane Quivey has worked on that stewardship team for more than five years. She and Phil pulled English ivy and other invasive plants side by side. “He was somebody you wanted to follow, one of those leaders that instilled loyalty. There was nothing you wouldn’t do for him. He cared so much about the park,” she says.
He led by example, quietly and systematically removing the vines that strangle the forest, working nearly every day whether it was hot and dry or cold and rainy. “It would just be so peaceful, like meditation,” Diane says of working with Phil. “There was a peace about him, quietly walking the trail with his hands behind his back. You wanted to help him.”
Diane is certain Phil stepped foot on nearly every inch of the park, and knew every sign post and every old tree. Even as his health declined, he’d walk the trails, hands clasped behind his back. “He just couldn’t give up. He had to be out here,” she says.
Stephanie Puhl, Development Director at FOTC, saw Phil’s car in the parking lot more often than she saw Phil. He was always in the woods. She believes Phil Hamilton was more than just a good example of a steward, he was an inspiration. “It’s pretty amazing to have a volunteer that’s so dedicated and integrated with such a high level of expertise as Phil,” she says. “People were inspired by his passion.”
Phil’s work and determination to take care of this little patch of forest in the city inspired so many to carry on the effort. “I feel he’s still here, because his heart was here,” says Stephanie.
Diane had a dream soon after Phil died. “It was vivid. He was telling me where to go next to pull ivy,” she says. She knew exactly the spot he mentioned in the dream. “We’re going to finally get to it next week.”