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HERB BENHAM: We're still unraveling mystery of who Phillip Scott was

Phillip Scott

Phillip Scott was a man who many remember for his support of the arts as well as his eccentricities.

The columns on the late Philip Scott — the man who lived downtown, looked homeless (although he had a home and other assets), loved music, theater and frequented the library at CSUB — generated more mail than anything I've written in years.

Maybe it's because people love mysteries. Rather than a "who done it," it's a "who was he?" Why, we wonder, when somebody has the means and the choice of living what we consider a conventional life — Scott was a hoarder and carried plastic shopping bags around full of newspapers — why would somebody opt for a life that appeared more difficult?

There is the mental health side. The tension between choosing a life and having it choose us. Choose us when something traumatic happens and we get thrown off the horse. Rather than judging, and I could give lessons, we're probably better off repeating "there but for the grace of God go I."

Most of us have some Phillip Scott in us. We try to keep the demons at bay, however it isn't always a picnic.

Ken Chilcote, who works at Regal Edwards Bakersfield, writes: "Phillip Scott would come to see the operas whenever they were showing.

"I have not seen many of our regulars since we reopened on May 7th. I worry we may have lost some. I have been there for eight and a half years. You get to know the people that you interact with on a weekly basis. It's like losing an old friend when you don't see them anymore."

Glenn Spencer writes: "I just read your two articles about Phil Scott. When I got out of college and landed my first real job in 1981, I shared an office with Phil for two years, at the Kern County Public Works/Roads Department where we were both accountants. He was eccentric but friendly and about 10 years my senior. He was very well liked.

"Being young and dumb, I inundated him with a gazillion questions and he faithfully answered them all. We talked a lot. He had a sense of humor and would crack sarcastic jokes. He graduated from UCLA, had been a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy, served on a ship, and received a commendation for performance in a combat zone (the waters off North Vietnam).

"I don't remember which medal it was, but it was more than the generic campaign medal awarded to everyone. I was impressed, and shocked. We knew he was well-off financially as he lived with his mother on their oil-rich property. He usually took the bus to work. Occasionally, he drove, and woe to anyone who got stuck behind him on the street since he drove maddeningly slow. After he quit working, in 1983 I think, I would see him in various places ... the supermarket, the bus, or just walking around downtown and I tried speaking to him but he didn't seem to recognize me and never responded back. Over the years I've wondered about what happened to Phil. I've since moved to Texas and was saddened to hear about his passing. I could go on more about Phil, as I can still remember the unique way he had about explaining an accounting concept to me."


Music recommendation of the week: "Gulf Coast Highway," with Nanci Griffith and Mac McNally, which is on YouTube. There is nothing better than a beautiful duet. 

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.