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HERB BENHAM: Who was Phillip Scott?

Who was Phillip Scott? There are things we know, things we don't and things, for those who saw him around town and wondered, we would like to know.

Scott's death this summer doesn't diminish the mystery and maybe only heightens it. Where was he walking holding his plastic grocery bags slung below his knees, where was he headed on the bus, did he sleep inside his house downtown — a hoarder's dream, jammed wall to wall with stuff like cases of cereal — or nestle between the stacks of papers on the porch?

It sounds like the subject for a podcast and you can almost hear the narrator in deep, meaningful tones say, "Who was this man?"

We've been watching Hulu's "Only Murders in the Building" with Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez, about the three of them making a podcast about trying to figure out who committed a murder of a man everyone seemingly hated in their fancy New York apartment building.

Phillip Scott didn't commit any murders, at least any we know about and I threw that in to make his story compelling. To the contrary, he was a positive force in the community, gentle, kind, friendly if not reticent and a great supporter of the arts.

Scott lived on 20th Street in a ramshackle old house that you might have seen in the children's story "Old Henry" as it was surrounded by overgrown bushes and untrimmed trees. We'd seen him for years but you didn't have to live downtown to recognize the man pictured in the photo.

Maybe every town has a Phillip Scott. Maybe more than one. Widely seen, but about whom no one knows more than they know.

I did an identity search and signed up on a site for $1 as a test run. If I wanted to continue I would pay $14.95 for the rest of my life and no doubt I will because it will probably be impossible to cancel.

Phillip Allan Scott was born in 1945. He would have been 76 this December. His mother, Florence H. Scott, died at 86 in March of 1988. There was no indication of an ex-wife, a dead wife or any other relatives although one person to whom I spoke said there might be a niece or a cousin somewhere.

Scott was identifiable by his long gray beard, a woolen hat — worn in summer and winter — several coats, loose blue jeans, a belt and glasses. He looked impoverished but he wasn't, given the house that he owned and the several acres he owned and sold on the corner of Downing and Rosedale Highway.

Scott loved and supported the arts (he was the webmaster for the Bakersfield Community Concerts). His interests included Flix, the film series at the Fox, as well as its predecessor FLICS, and music of all kinds: classical, American standards, choral music and Celtic, according to neighbor Bart Hill who along with his wife, Napier, and daughters Paige and Elizabeth befriended Scott more than 25 years ago.

"He was always up on the latest Celtic recordings," Hill said.

Scott never seemed to miss a concert by the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra.

"I remember when the symphony played the Mahler Resurrection Symphony to close the 2019 season," said Holly Arnold, executive director for the symphony.

"He walked around the lobby looking homeless as he usually did and made his way to the front row and took a seat.

"This is a beautiful piece that combines the orchestra and the choir and I happened to look over and Phillip was weeping."

•••

Downtown property owner Dean Holloway remembers Scott from when they worked together at the county for Dale Mills.

"He was an engineer, he was really smart and I think he may have gone to UCLA and been a naval officer," Holloway said.

"He was a nice person, got along with the ladies and had a really good career going but something happened at the county and he had to leave and he started going downhill personally."

Sharon Langham remembers him from the monthly county retirees luncheons at Hodel's, until they were canceled due to COVID.

"He walked or rode the GET bus everywhere," Langham said.

"Several times I would offer him a ride when it was very hot and I saw him walking to the bus stop but he always declined. He was a gentle soul and very quiet."

•••

The Hill family probably knew Scott best, mainly because of Napier.

"Napier is such a kind, thoughtful person that when she saw him sitting on the porch one day she decided we ought to start delivering him gifts," Hill said, noting that their daughters put the gifts on his doorstep.

"There were mostly little baskets of treats and then we exchanged Christmas presents for years when he realized where the gifts were coming from."

Ten years ago, Scott delivered a beautiful nature calendar to the Hills at Christmas and through the years, generous gift cards to restaurants and Celtic music CDs.

"He always had a car parked by the house under a canvas cover," Hill said, laughing. "The rumor was it was a Maserati."

•••

This concludes the first episode of the Phillip Scott story. We may never know more, but if somebody does, a second episode may be forthcoming.

Contact The Californian’s Herb Benham at 661-395-7279 or hbenham@bakersfield.com. His column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays; the views expressed are his own.