Rev. Dr. Phillip Hewett 1925 – 2018
Video of the memorial service and memory sharing is posted here.
Sign the guestbook and share your memories of Rev. Hewett.
Obituary and guest book on Legacy.com
A Celebration of the Life of the Rev. Dr. Phillip Hewett, Minister Emeritus of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, was held at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, March 23, 2018. A video-recording of the service is available on our youtube channel.
The Rev. Dr. Phillip Hewett, Minister Emeritus of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, died Saturday, February 24, 2018. He suffered a massive stroke on Tuesday, the 20th and never regained consciousness. His children Daphne and Barton attended him in his last days in the hospital.
Unitarian ministers of the BC Lower Mainland cluster saw him just days before his stroke: he was sound of mind and body, and was so pleased that a commemorative booklet containing tributes and a selection of his sermons had been published and presented to him at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver on the occasion of his 93rd birthday, February 10th.
Sincerely, Rev. Steven Epperson
Photo credit: Vancouver Courier and Dan Toulgoet
Phillip Hewett was minister emeritus since 1991; prior to that he was senior minister of the congregation for 35 years.
Born in England, where he received the bulk of his education and training for the ministry, he held the following degrees:
BA, Oxford University, 1949
MA, Oxford University, 1951
STM, Harvard University, 1953
STD (honoris causa), Starr King School for the Ministry, 1969
He served as assistant minister at the Unitarian Church of Montreal (1953-54) and as minister of the Ipswich Unitarian Congregation in England (1954-56) before coming to Vancouver in 1956 as parish minister. After his retirement in 1991, he served as interim minister at the Unitarian Church of Victoria (1991-92) and had shorter-term appointments with the Unitarian fellowship in St Catharines, Ontario, Auckland, New Zealand and Adelaide, Australia.
He traveled widely, visiting Unitarian movements in various parts of the world, and was active in the International Association for Religious Freedom and the the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, as well as holding responsible positions in the Canadian Unitarian Council and the Unitarian Universalist Association (which at that time included the whole of North America in its membership). In 1992 he was the recipient of the UUA’s Annual Award for Distinguished Service.
At a local level, he was involved in many community organizations, particularly those working in interfaith relations, family services, education, peace, and environmental concerns. He and his wife Margaret, who died in 2006, had two children and four grandchildren. He was the author of a number of books and other writings. Several of his books can be found in the congregation’s library which is open on Sunday mornings until 1 pm.
Two of his many writings are posted on the Canadian Unitarian Council website:
More details about Rev. Hewett’s career:
25 September 2016 - Why We're Here And Not Someplace Else Pt3 (377.2 KiB)
Odyssey, Presented at the Unitarian Ministerial Fellowship Autumnal Conference, September 2015:
ODYSSEY-Rev Phillip Hewett (160.5 KiB)
Phillip Hewett - A Spiritual Odyssey - Reflections of Rev. Hewett Collected by Stanley L. Tromp (467.4 KiB)
Contributions to Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography
A History of the Unitarian Movement (cuc.ca)
A History of the Suzuki Elders
Rev. Hewett was founding president and honorary director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
Please share your memories of Rev. Hewett as well as biographical details about his enormous contributions to our community and the larger world.
I am in awe of Phillip and his life. He continues to inspire me to be courageous in curiosity, honesty, and service. He shared with Gandhi a profound love of truth, although unlike Gandhi, he would not call it God. I remember him saying that divinity in the universe was more of a verb, than a noun. Although not exuberant, he demonstrated a deep love of nature, and therefore, a troubled relationship with humanity, which demonstrated such brutality during his long life. Perhaps he found a kind of salvation in service, since he put his gifts to good use and found his greatest joy in service and creativity. Yes, I'll say it, "intellectual" creativity, since he was an unabashed intellectual, though a very humble one.
I knew him primarily as a parishioner in our Unitarian church, but we also overlapped in the Suzuki Elders. In fact I joined the Suzuki Elders partly in order to spend time with him, in a supportive atmosphere: the David Suzuki Foundation. He wrote "A History of the Suzuki Elders" (he was a top notch historian), which I just read. But to be brief, I will simply quote a poem from that website, which I think represents him:
"One of the original members of the Suzuki Elders, Dr. Louis Nuernberger, wrote the following poem in 1988.
If there is a holocaust and,
Speaking earthwise, all is lost—
Three-odd billion quick cremations—
Grant me, please, a time apart
To rendezvous within my heart,
A moment to be spent in prayer,
One last time to be aware
Of all the beauty I have seen,
A tear for all that might have been.
"And if there is no conflagration,
No final rite for all creation,
Will you join with me in prayer?
Take time, each day, to be aware
Of earthly grandeur still remaining
As pristine nature fast is waning,
Preserve for 21st Century eyes
Blue water, green trees, azure skies,
And ask, as planet earth keeps spinning,
What are we losing, obsessed with winning? –
Can we be worthy of our beginnings?"
Yes. Phillip was worthy of his beginnings, and then some. He had a good life. He had a good death. As a final prayer: thank you!
On behalf of USC Canada, I would like to extend my deepest condolences on Rev. Dr. Hewett's death. I had the joy of meeting him personally at the CUC Conference in Vancouver in 2016, and again when I spoke at the Vancouver Unitarian congregation last spring. The stories he could tell, and the frame through which he viewed the world, were inspiring. He was truly a giant among humans. We give thanks for his life, and for all of the lives that he touched in his journey through this world. May the seeds he planted continue to flourish, and create a garden of Justice.
I first walked into the Unitarian Church of Vancouver on October 21st, 1973. It was a visit that was to change my life. Phillip Hewett was speaking and I felt he articulated everything that I believed (only much, much better). I had found "my home" (at least for the time being). A few weeks later, I attended a "Fireside chat" (I think that was what they were called). Phillip invited questions and discussion about Unitarianism. Most of the other people there talked about seeing their children through the RE program, having attended "for years"... It came to my turn, and I remember saying, "I've only been coming for a few weeks but I KNOW this is where I want to be." Phillip looked at me quizzically, and asked, "Are you sure?" I said, "Yes. I've never been more sure of anything in my life!" I think I was his quickest "convert". In November of that year, I became a member and served for several years on the Worship Services Committee. I also led an Outdoors group and joined the Social Action team. Unfortunately, when I graduated from UBC, I couldn't get a job in Vancouver so moved to London, Ontario, to go to Library School. I always thought I'd come back to Vancouver, but it wasn't to be (only for visits, and it was during one of those that I wrote "Carry the Flame"). But I thank Phillip for helping steer me on to this track. I'm now involved with the Saskatoon Unitarians and loving it.
I first encountered Phillip at the end of his ministry when I sporadically began to attend UCV. When I finally joined in 1992 I got to know him better on the Partner Church Cmte. He was the heart and soul of the cmte providing inspiration, historical context and a strong commitment to our partners in Brasso, Romania. An example of that commitment was the time he strapped $2000 USD to his torso in order to evade the ban on bringing foreign currency into Romania during one of his numerous trips there. Totally illegal and potentially dangerous.
As the years went by and his wife, Margaret’s condition worsened, Phillip used to invite me to the opera when Margaret was unable to make it. He was a quiet man in social situations and we spent most of the events in silence. He wasn’t one for social chit-chat and I hadn’t yet learned how to get him talking.
I was always drawn to Phillip and looked for ways to be near him. I admired his quiet strength, his wisdom, his accomplishments and his gentle nature. Beyond the partner church, we shared 3 passions; hiking, choral music and Wilderness. I decided to join the Golden Age Hiking Club even though I wasn’t even close to my golden years. This would give me a chance to hang out with Phillip and be able to keep up with him now that he was in his 80s. On the long hikes, I discovered that if I asked the right questions I could get Phillip to tell me stories about his life, the old days in the church and Wilderness. He was a magnificent story teller and had a wicked giggle that seem totally incongruous with his rather stately deportment.
It was around this time that Phillip, Alison Pearson, John Smith and I formed a mini hiking group that we called the Amigos. So many great hikes with great company ensued. We tailored our hikes and even snowshoeing around Phillip’s abilities. Eventually this became too difficult for him and we continued to have lunch and little walks often in the Endowment Lands when he moved to Tapestry.
Choral concerts were a favourite of Phillips and we went to many together; the Chamber Choir which he had season’s tickets to since their inception, Musica Intima, Chor Leoni’s Remembrance Day concert where he got in free being a veteran, and later the UBC choirs. His pleasure in the music was profound, especially when the words were printed in the programme. Words were so important to him.
I remember playing “Dictionary” in Hungary on our way to Romania with Phillip, Alison, John and Rae. This is a game where one person finds a word no one knows and the rest make up fake definitions to try to fool people. We were staying in my ex-husband’s summer place near Lake Balaton and had no dictionary. No problem, Phillip would be our dictionary. He came up with the perfect word for our game and for the situation; usufruct. Never heard of it, right? It means “The right to use something belonging to another”.
When attending choral concerts with Phillip I sometimes came early with dinner in order to spend more time with him and to add to his bachelor’s diet. One time he reported that he had had a delicious salmon dinner the night before. He had bought a large frozen salmon and wondered how to extract one portion from it. He came up with a thoroughly practical, Phillip solution; place the salmon in his vice and break off a piece with his sledge hammer!!
Phillip, Alison, John and two others from Beacon went to Transylvania in 2011. Phillip was a pleasure to travel with; upbeat, flexible and totally unflappable. He drank Palinka (a nasty, strong brandy) with the locals, chatted up the Romanian Orthodox minister we met and even suggested we attend his service, partaking in everything, even communion. He was up early, always at the appointed meeting place, smiling and ready for anything. He was 86 years old at that time.
He showed the same kind of stamina and low maintenance on our 4 trips to Wilderness together, the last one being in 2015 when he was 90! David Marmorek and I got him up to the bridge one last time where he said these words to me; “It is very heartening to think that these beautiful, sheer, rock cliffs will remain when I am gone.” What a legacy he has left us in those 150 acres of wildness.
Days before he died, Phillip and I went to a concert at the Chan featuring UBC’s fabulous choirs. We decided to take the little shuttle bus near his place and managed to get on the one going the wrong way round the ring to the Chan. Was Phillip worried? Was he a little testy because I hadn’t researched the bus route more thoroughly? Did he show the slightest bit of anxiety that we might miss the start of the concert? Not in the least. Instead we watched the whole UBC campus go by and made it to our seats just in time.
I once asked Phillip how he managed to deal with all the trials of ministry and he said; “I was blessed with an even temperament”. Yes he was and we the luckier for that. I shall always think of him this way; even, smiling, up for anything and with a wicked giggle.
He was my mentor for every facet of my life.
Mary Lage, UCV
I was privileged to have Phillip respond to random queries that I fairly regularly sent him by email when I was the CUC Executive Director. I often traveled with "Unitarians in Canada" with me and would use the index to look up the people I met when visiting congregations. I usually met with Phillip when I was in Vancouver. Margaret (with her caregiver) would serve tea and cookies to us and then whisk us away to Phillip's study to "go talk business."