John McCandlish Phillips Jr., an acclaimed New York Times reporter who left his job to become an evangelist, died April 9 at age 85 after a long bout with pneumonia, WORLD reports. Phillips worked for 21 years at the Times, and was known for his hard-hitting journalism as well as his creative feature articles. Phillips famously kept a Bible on his desk and abstained from the common newsroom practices of drinking and gambling. Yet, he didn’t have a preachy reputation: He was known as a “quiet giant” and maintained an exemplary reputation.
Phillips mentored several generations of journalists, even in the years after he left journalism. Russ Pulliam, a WORLD board member, was a friend and mentee of Phillips. “I didn’t even know how to say, ‘How do we bring a Christian worldview to our work?’” Pulliam recalled Tuesday. “I know for a number of younger Christians in journalism he was a friend who gave us guidance. … He could go write a story and bring biblical principles to bear in it, and in such a subtle way. And the New York Times editors would love it.”
In 1965, Phillips reported on Daniel Burros, the leader of New York state’s Ku Klux Klan who advocated for the genocide of Jew. In the lead-up to the story, Phillips found out that Burros was himself Jewish, and Burros threatened to kill Phillips. When Phillips went forward with his reporting, Burros committed suicide the day the Times published the story.
Phillips quit the Times in 1973. He said he felt God calling him into full-time ministry, which he did through a small Pentecostal church he helped found and run: New Testament Missionary Fellowship. At the time the Christian community in New York City was very small, but has grown in recent decades.