Little Rock lawyer Phil Anderson dies

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/HELAINE R. WILLIAMS

Honoree representative Annette and Phil Anderson at POP! — A Beaux Arts Ball, an awards benefit held May 3, 2018, at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/HELAINE R. WILLIAMS Honoree representative Annette and Phil Anderson at POP! — A Beaux Arts Ball, an awards benefit held May 3, 2018, at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock.

A Little Rock attorney who was president of the American Bar Association -- and was once Robert Oppenheimer's paperboy -- died early Tuesday morning.

Philip Sidney Anderson, 88, died of complications of Alzheimer's disease, according to family members.

Besides practicing law for nearly 60 years, Anderson was a talented cartoonist, book collector and gardener who wore his trademark bow-ties pretty much everywhere -- except the courtroom.

"When you are trying a case, you want to do no harm, so you want to remove anything that might distract or prejudice one of those panel members," Peter Kumpe, a law firm partner and bow-tie wearer, said referring to juries.

Anderson began practicing law in Little Rock in 1960 with Wright, Harrison, Lindsey & Upton. In 1988, four attorneys left the firm, which by that time was known as Wright, Lindsey & Jennings.

Anderson, Kumpe, W. Jack Williams and David Menz left to form Williams & Anderson PLC, which concentrated on business law.

Jack Williams began working at Wright, Harrison, Lindsey & Upton about the same time Anderson did.

"We practiced law together for 60 years," said Williams. "He was a very close friend. He was a gifted speaker. He was completely at ease in the courtroom. He was a natural for law practice."

Kumpe said another partner in the firm, David Powell, said Anderson was "a legal icon in the community."

With his oratorical skills, Anderson was a compelling figure in Arkansas courtrooms.

"We heard that when he was going to present a case in federal court in Little Rock, the security guards would take turns so they could go upstairs and listen," said his daughter, Sidney Kenyon of Boston.

"Phil Anderson was a very learned person and a noted book collector," said Morris "Buzz" Arnold, a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. "I always looked forward to Phil's presentations at the XV Club because they were always so erudite and original."

Anderson was president of the American Bar Association from 1998-99. Only three Arkansans have served as president. The other two were Anderson's father in law, Edward L. Wright in 1970-71, and U.M. Rose in 1901-02.

"Phil was very bright. A lot of lawyers are," said Leon Holmes, a former federal judge in Little Rock. "He was a perfect gentleman. His civility, manners, his courtesy were impeccable. He had an enormous attention to detail as well as the big picture. He was a mentor to me. I learned how to practice law from Phil Anderson."

"My perception of him throughout my life has been he is a bright and steady person who when I was younger was a good mentor and as an adult was a friend and always conducted himself as a true gentleman," said Merritt Dyke of Little Rock, a longtime family friend.

Anderson was born May 9, 1935, in Little Rock, to Philip Sidney Anderson Sr. and Frances Walt Anderson.

In a 2018 interview with the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, Anderson said he remembered the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

His family was living in Little Rock at the time. His father, who had an ROTC commission through the University of Arkansas, was soon called up, and the family moved to Omaha.

Then, they were sent to Oak Ridge, Tenn., where Philip Anderson Sr., an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers, would help build a town.

Important work was being done there, work to develop an atomic bomb.

Phil Jr. -- a 7-year-old second grader at that time -- told his teacher in Omaha that they were moving.

In front of the entire class, she asked where they were going.

He said, "I can't tell you. It's a secret. I promised not to tell."

She got in his face and said, "You tell me where you're going, and you tell me now."

Finally, after more badgering, he told her: Oak Ridge, Tenn.

He went home and told his father, who said he'd have to report it.

At school the next morning, two Secret Service agents showed up at the class and invited the teacher into the hallway for a long conversation, Anderson said in the museum interview.

"When they returned, my teacher was an absolute wreck," he said. "Her hair was disheveled. She'd been crying."

Then she apologized to young Phil.

"I think it demonstrates the secrecy in which Oak Ridge was planned and developed and carried on its mission," he said.

Anderson enjoyed his time in Oak Ridge. He was a paperboy, delivering the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Knoxville Journal (at different times). One of his customers was Robert Oppenheimer, known now as the father of the atomic bomb.

"He was the only prepay on the paper route that I had, and he was therefore my favorite because I didn't have to collect from him," Anderson said in the 2018 interview.

During Anderson's junior year of high school, the family moved back to Arkansas when his father bought a farm in Poinsett County. Young Phil attended school in Marked Tree, where he also covered football games for the Marked Tree Tribune.

Anderson spent much of his last year of high school touring the country with his prize-winning Future Farmers of America speech on cotton titled: The Benevolent Monster.

"Cotton has grown from a poor, scrawny, hand-seeded crop -- a strictly subsistence crop -- into a prodigious and benevolent monster, providing jobs and security for millions of people, and helping the United States to become the richest and most stable nation in the world," wrote Anderson.

But he warned of "the threat of synthetic fibers" that had crept into world markets.

After that, he went to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where he earned bachelor's and law degrees, both in 1959. As an undergrad, he was editor-in-chief for the yearbook, a political cartoonist for the student newspaper, and co-editor of The Razor Blade: Arkansas' Sharpest Magazine, a popular underground publication that got shut down by the university after five issues.

In law school, he was editor-in-chief of the Arkansas Law Review.

While in law school, he met Rosemary "Missy" Wright. They would later marry and have three children, now known as Sidney Kenyon, Philip Wright Anderson and Kate Anderson Askew.

After graduation, and six months on active duty in the Army as a reserve officer, Anderson went to work in 1960 for Wright, Harrison, Lindsey & Upton. His father in law, Edward L. Wright, was one of the firm's partners.

"He always said he cut his teeth on the hog and dog cases in Arkansas," Kate Askew said of her father.

She said the firm represented Rock Island Railroad, and people in Arkansas often sued the railroad because a train hit their prized hog or dog.

In 1971, Anderson represented Worthen Bank & Trust Co. of Little Rock in a federal lawsuit against National BankAmericard Inc., which wouldn't let banks that issued its credit cards also issue Mastercards.

"Ultimately, after a suit was filed and won, Worthen Bank became the first major bank in the United States to issue both cards," Anderson told the Arkansas Democrat in a 1989 interview.

In 1974, Walter E. Hussman Jr. hired Anderson to help WEHCO Media buy the Arkansas Democrat.

Anderson also served as the attorney for the Arkansas Democrat when it was sued by the Arkansas Gazette a decade later.

"Basically, the Gazette was claiming that the Democrat was trying to put them out of business, that its pricing practices were predatory, and that predatory behavior was unlawful under the federal statutes and unlawful under the state unfair competition statutes," Anderson said in a 2007 interview for the Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History at the UA in Fayetteville. "But, in order to prevail, the Gazette had to show that the Democrat had market power. That was something, as I said, could not be shown given the fact that the Gazette was profitable, had more circulation, [and] had more advertising than the Democrat did. It was clearly by every measure the dominant newspaper."

The Gazette lost the lawsuit in March 1986, and the Patterson family announced on Halloween of that year that it was selling the newspaper to Gannett Co.

Gannett "didn't understand competition" and could never get a grip on the newspaper market in Arkansas, said Anderson. Gannett immediately set about converting the conservative-looking, hard-news Gazette that many readers loved into something considerably less serious, with color pictures of things like cheerleaders in Spandex on the front page.

Readers didn't respond well to the changes.

By 1991, Gannett had had enough. The corporation closed the Gazette and sold the newspaper's assets and name to the Arkansas Democrat.

Hussman, who is now chairman of WEHCO Media, the parent company of the Democrat-Gazette, said he didn't know when he met Anderson in 1974 that he would become one of his best and lifelong friends.

"He was an outstanding lawyer and extremely well read," said Hussman. "He loved books, ideas, and whether giving a speech or addressing a jury, he was eloquent and articulate. His advice and counsel helped guide our newspaper and our company for decades. He also had a keen sense of humor. He loved his family, the law, and his native state. Arkansas is a better place because of his intellect, dedication and contributions."

"Philip had a monumentally distinguished legal career and was a rock for the Democrat-Gazette," said Griffin Smith, a former executive editor at the newspaper. "During my years as editor he was always a dependable friend, mentor, counselor, and source of support. I will miss him very much."

Anderson put his cartooning skills to good use creating the family Christmas cards every year.

"He did one in 1969 where we were all barefoot hippies," said daughter Kate Askew. "He had a beard holding up a peace sign."

Anderson also illustrated Eli the Elf, a children's book written by Askew.

"He was one of the funniest people I've ever known," said his daughter Sidney Kenyon. "He was a great guy behind that bow tie."

Askew said her father carried a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his shirt pocket, and every year on the Fourth of July, he gathered the family together so he could read to them from the Federalist Papers.

It was an exciting time.

"He could have been an architect," said Askew. "He could have been a political cartoonist. He knew that, but he chose the law. ... Dad was just a very interesting, multi-faceted human being."

Askew said her father collected books and drawings by Max Beerbohm, an English essayist and caricaturist who died in 1956.

"Dad said someone told him when he was a young man that a man should know something about everything and everything about something, and the thing he knew everything about was Max Beerbohm," said Askew.

Anderson was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and a member of the Grolier Club of New York. He served as a trustee of the George W. Donaghey Foundation for 44 years, was a member of the board of directors of WEHCO Media, a trustee of the Central Arkansas Library System, and was active in other civic organizations.

"Phil was my mentor as I began my law career and taught me not only how to practice effectively, but also how to treat other members of the bar with dignity and respect," said Alec Gaines, a former attorney at Williams & Anderson. "Phil also taught me how to tie a bow-tie which was no small feat. I am going to miss him."

Gaines is married to Democrat-Gazette Publisher Eliza Gaines and has represented the newspaper on legal matters.

Anderson represented several media clients on First Amendment issues, including access and defamation, according to a 2019 announcement in the Democrat-Gazette when he retired from Williams & Anderson.

"He was lead counsel for ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC in access litigation arising out of the Whitewater trials in Arkansas in 1996," it read. "He represented The New York Times, the Associated Press and HBO on media issues arising in Arkansas."

His wife, Missy Wright Anderson, died in 2011.

By the time he officially retired in 2019, Anderson was already slipping away.

He would still go to the office every day, but he wasn't really working, said Askew.

"He loved the law," she said. "So he would go to the office, and they were happy to have him."