art August 10, 2007
Twin Cities Times
Honoring Philip Terry
By Larry Chu
Twin Cities Times

When someone mentions artist, poet, author, philosopher and technologist all in one sentence, he would be remiss if he also didn’t mention something about the Larkspur Library, if referring to Philip Terry. On July 31, Philip, who is all these things and a member of the library board of trustees, retired after 35 years of service to the city of Larkspur. “My father was on the school board of my grammar school and later my high school,” he said once. “At the time, I wanted to be a teacher and developed a real love of books.”

He was born in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1943. His family moved to West Sacramento when he was 8 years old. College began with two years at UC Davis. After an early marriage, Philip attended night school to complete his education, first earning an AA in sociology from Sacramento City College and then a BA in history from S.F. State, all while working 60-plus hours a week.

Philip’s first “real” job was reading meters for PG&E. But he disliked the daily ritual of being chased through neighborhoods by dogs and crawling through the subterranean passages of Old Sacramento’s flood-damaged streets. When the opportunity to transfer to San Francisco to become a computer programmer came up, he took advantage of it. Even in 1967, it wasn’t easy to find affordable housing in San Francisco, so he looked to the north in Marin and found a place in Corte Madera that would rent to families with children. After a short stay along Highway 101, Philip found a home they could afford and settled in Larkspur.


At PG&E, Philip became a pioneer in technology, writing one of, if not the first, online business-transaction processing system, which included the first “log-in” program. This software remained in production through 2006, processing 3.5 million transactions a day. Philip rose through the ranks to become the director of Systems Programming and Operations Support and retired in 1995.

After a day at the office, Philip would visit the Larkspur Library at every opportunity. “Work was immensely stressful from all the heavy-duty systems programming, and I needed a distraction.”

Librarian Richard Kilbourne took notice of this person who would check out 15 to 20 books at a time. With a vacancy on the library board in 1972, Kilbourne encouraged Philip to apply. He was already involved in local activities such as coaching CYO basketball and managing the Larkspur Lions Little League team; this seemed like a natural extension that would combine his love of books with community service.

In his first two years on the board, Philip served as president. Activities included organizing the annual art Shows, which were fundraisers for the library. The challenge at the time was to raise money for a new library. “The library then was unique, like an old book store with cantilevered shelves. But we were out of space. Books were literally falling off the shelves.”

When the bond funding came before the voters in 1976, it only garnered 46 percent support. At the time, residents felt it was more important to acquire North Ridge (south of Madrone Canyon) for open space, To compound the woes of the library, Proposition 13 was approved shortly thereafter, placing the city in the position of not having enough tax revenue, and threatening the funding for library operations.

In response, council member Chuck Curley suggested to Philip that perhaps he could create a nonprofit entity to provide supplemental funding through philanthropic giving. The Larkspur Library Endowment Fund and Foundation (which will celebrate its 30th anniversary at the library on Sept. 9) was formed to support the library. “We had to do a lot of community outreach. John De Bonis (library board member at the time) said we should have ‘a big yellow hippo as a mascot.’ I was the first one to wear the ‘Larky’ suit during the Fourth of July parade. We also adopted the motto ‘The World’s Greatest Library,’ and that has stuck.”

With the help of foundation funds, the library was remodeled in 1984. Up until 2001, most of the work for the board had been running the library. Now, the issues related to space are driving the discussion for a new or expanded facility, much as it did 35 years ago.

A major difference today is technology. Philip agrees this will be a factor in the design of a 21st century library, but he doesn’t see it changing as fast as some people may think. “Technology such as the Internet will complement libraries, particularly in reference material. I already use the Internet to find the best book on a subject in which I’m interested. Libraries are evolving, but the Internet won’t replace libraries in my lifetime. Books provide a tactile experience where you can crawl into your own little area to read. You can live vicariously, go any place in the universe and live happily ever after.”

Philip never gave his 35 years of service much thought until asked what he is most proud of. He paused for a moment. “Besides the remodel, we increased service hours, put procedures and processes in writing for future generations, and we were one of only a few libraries in the country to offer comic books, which provide visual enhancements to increase reading skills.”

Daniel Kunstler is the new appointee to the library board. With “Painting and Poems of Ireland” already published (available at Book Passage), Philip wants to dedicate more time to his art and poetry, finish the three books that are works in progress and spend time with his 1-year-old granddaughter.

However, Philip is still committed to the library. He continues to work as a foundation trustee, as a member of the Larkspur Library Steering Committee and with the Friends of the Larkspur Library. “If you don’t have much, a library will give you the world, page by page. If you have everything, a library can enhance it. Books will never go away. They are the gift of all the people who lived before us.”

Philip has two sons and a daughter, and three grandchildren ages 15, 13 and 1. He and Patricia, his wife of nearly 45 years, and their dog Duffy still live in the same Heather Gardens home they bought 40 years ago. On Aug. 15, at 7:30 p.m., the Larkspur City Council will present Philip with a resolution commemorating his 35 years of service as a library board member. The meeting is in the City Hall council chambers on the second floor of 400 Magnolia.

Larry Chu is member of Larkspur City Council and the council liaison to the library board. Questions or comments can be e-mailed to LChu@larkspurcityhall.org.

Philip Terry’s work can be viewed at www.PhilipTerry.com.

Information on the Larkspur Library Endowment Fund and Foundation can be viewed at www.larkspurlibraryfoundation.org and the Friends of the Larkspur Library can be viewed at www.friendslarkspurlibrary.com.

Contact Larry Chu at crooney@marinscope.com




Below is the Certificate presented to me by the City Council of Larkspur.

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Below is the Certificate presented to me by Hal Brown, County of Marin Supervisor. He also pledged $5000 in my honor for a future project at the library. Needless to say I was delighted.

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