In Memoriam: Philip P. Houle

Phil Houle passed away in his sleep on March 7 at his Hyattsville home. He was born on Aug. 29, 1945, in Oberlin, Ohio. Phil moved with his family to Hyattsville in 1984 to accept the position of legal counsel at the Federal Depositors Insurance Corporation in Washington, DC. Phil is survived by his wife Gail, daughters Katherine and Suzanne, sister Nancy Rice, and brothers James, Steven David, Matthew, Thomas, John and Jeffrey. A celebration of his life and and a funeral mass were held on March 17 in Biddeford, Maine. A memorial service in Hyattsville is being planned.

By Scott Wythe

“Scawt, Phil Hoool heah.”

That greeting and Phil’s voice are forever ingrained in my memory. It’s how my friend from Maine, Phil Houle, would announce himself every single time I answered his phone call. It is a happy memory, and I’m grateful I can still hear it in my mind.

I first met Phil and his wife, Gail, in the fall of 2000 while canvassing our former Hyattsville neighborhood about a political issue. The weather was unpleasant, and they invited me in to warm up. I stayed for about an hour and left knowing I’d be seeing more of both of them. My wife and I were new to town, and their warm welcome confirmed for me that we had made the right decision in choosing Hyattsville as the place to raise our child.

I saw them frequently over the next few years. Some of it was purely social — small talk over dinner — but we would mostly talk about Hyattsville and the current issues at hand. We didn’t always agree, but I sensed that we liked each other. And so a certain trust evolved.

A few years after meeting Phil, in the spring of 2003, I decided to make a run for the city council seat representing our ward. The Houle family was one of the first I went to asking for support. Once I convinced the Houles I was serious, I got to see Phil’s dual nature of political strategist and boyishly enthusiastic supporter at work. These two sides of Phil define him for me.

Phil acted as if he were my campaign manager. Back then, every candidate was their own campaign manager. You just got a new pair of shoes, wrote some short and hopefully clear campaign material, and hit the pavement.

The weekend before Election Day, I saw Phil driving his old car festooned with my campaign signs and blaring his horn in front of my house. He also had a bullhorn and was going to drive street to street exhorting residents to vote for me.

I didn’t suggest that, and wasn’t comfortable with it.  But when I flagged him down, he seemed so proud of supporting me as a candidate. I waved him on, but suggested he tone it down with the bullhorn.

I squeaked out a victory in that election, and for weeks afterwards Phil would call or visit me with a myriad of ideas for the city, some of which were simply impractical. But he was so animated, so full of hope and happiness. I would go to bed thinking, “If only Phil’s ideas were doable!” Phil’s mind wasn’t constrained by the legislative process.

Phil was too young to be a father figure to me and too old to be an older brother. He was wedged in that weird spot where you’re unsure of the nature of your relationship. We certainly weren’t best friends, but we were more than mere acquaintances.

Yet there were similarities. Like my own father, he made no mention of his significant career accomplishments. Phil must have been proud of them, but he kept them to himself.

Like an older brother, Phil could offer wise counsel one moment and then act ridiculous the next. I fondly remember both sides of him.

And like a best friend, he spent many hours with me. We’d tell jokes and regale each other with stories until we were told to knock it off.

I will always remember Phil as a bit of father, a bit of a brother and most of all, a friend.

Scott Wythe, a former resident of Hyattsville, lives in New Hope, Pa. He served as a Hyattsville city councilmember from 2003 to 2005.