Cover photo for James Clifford Phillips's Obituary
James Clifford Phillips Profile Photo
1948 James 2023

James Clifford Phillips

July 10, 1948 — May 23, 2023

James Clifford Phillips, 74, of Three Forks passed away suddenly on May 23 at his family cabin in the mountains above Pony. Jim was born in Three Forks to Cliff and Ruth (Colegrove) Phillips. Jim grew up on the west side of town on the edge of Buttleman’s field. He played in the woods and river bottom all day, collecting sheds and dragging stuff from the old dump to build forts. The family had a little trailer and camped often. When he was 10 years old, they bought land up the Gallatin Canyon and, until they got their cabin built, parked the trailer at the Rainbow Ranch. This was the beginning of Jim’s obsession with shed collecting. For years, Ruth would drop him between the canyon and Yellowstone Park, and he would hike the mountains, zigzagging across the hillsides, picking up sheds by himself. He also often camped and hunted sheds with his good friend, Bob Allen.

Jim enjoyed school, his classmates, and many activities. He lettered in football and track, sang in the chorus, and was on student council and annual staff. After graduation, he went to business school in Boise, Idaho where he met the love of his life, Diane Garey. They married in 1968 and settled in Three Forks. Jim first worked on the Milwaukee section and, in 1970, he went to work at the talc plant where he stayed until retirement. Jim put in his 8 hours so that he could go home and spend 8 hours doing the things that gave his life its worth—rock work, yard work, shed hunting, and spending time with family. He and Diane were fierce competitors through all their years of marriage, hosting pinochle parties with friends, playing mahjong at the library, and playing backgammon and Skip Bo at home, often with baking a rhubarb pie or completing a dreaded chore on the line.

Jim and Diane have three daughters—he loved his girls deeply and truly believed his girls could do anything boys could do. The whole family spent weekends shed hunting, camping, fishing, and working in the garden and yard. Jim didn’t do anything half-heartedly; he believed in giving any effort 110%, so the garden was huge, the rock work impressive, and the antler collection beyond belief. He built a massive pole barn where he displayed his world-class antler collection. People have come from all over the world to see the awe-inspiring display.

He also enjoyed spending time with his brother, Lee, who was 5 years younger. They both loved the outdoors and were passionate about shed collecting, regularly attending the antler auction in Jackson Hole and spending a lot of time shed hunting together.

Jim was a strong union guy, and he loved the town of Three Forks. He served his community for many years as a school board member, played league golf, grew a pumpkin patch from which preschool kids could pick their pumpkins every fall, put up spectacular Halloween and Christmas decorations, and gave out renowned Halloween treats. Besides his love for shed hunting, Jim’s other passions were his girls and his writing. He and Diane loved watching their girls play ball and run track, never missing a sporting event. He wrote different columns for the Herald throughout the years. Early on, he wrote a column for the Historical Society called “The Museum,” and later he wrote “A View from the Trail,” which he eventually published in three collections. Being devoted to walking the trail, Jim insisted that all profits from his writing go to the Headwaters Trail System. He sold his books at farmers market in Three Forks, Manhattan, and Bozeman.

When it came to his family, Jim wore his heart on his sleeve. In 55 years of marriage, he never forgot to get Diane an anniversary or birthday card, and he was a thoughtful gift-giver to his kids and grandkids. After the girls graduated, he missed them dearly, so he got a bulldog and named it Tippy, after a bulldog he had as a kid. Tippy captured his heart and kept him company for 12 years. Since then, Jim and Diane haven’t been without a bulldog, or two. Blossom, Skittles, and Juju followed, and their most recent bulldog “girls” are Twix and Snickers. After his morning trail walk, Jim would come home to feed his bulldogs a breakfast hotdog and spend some quality time with them on the couch before writing in his diary. As an avid writer, Jim kept a diary his entire adult life. He also logged shed counts after hiking trips, recorded yearly garden plantings, and logged all his walking and exercise biking miles. In less than 20 years, he made 3 trips around the world without leaving town, riding 50,000 miles on his exercise bike and walking over 25,000 miles on the trail system.

About 15 years ago, Jim and Diane built a cabin up behind Pony. They spent lots of time up there, especially enjoying clearing trees and brush, playing cards, and hauling rocks. Jim was a rock wall mastermind. He built hundreds of feet of impressive rock wall both at the house and the cabin. He had just completed the awesome rock entrance to the cabin the weekend before he died. Jim especially enjoyed time with family at the cabin, hiking, ziplining, and eating smores by the campfire with his eight grandchildren.

Jim was a proud grandpa and was grateful to have a second round of watching ball games and sharing his hard-earned wisdom with them. Again, he never missed a sporting event, school program, or recital. Jim was sentimental and a deep thinker. Over the years, he sent weekly letters to his kids and grandkids who lived outside Montana, and when he got his iPhone, he sent regular text touches to let everyone, even his sons-in-law, know he cared.

Jim is survived by his wife, Diane; three daughters, Lisa Malmquist (Daryl), Angie Casteel (Allen), and Wendy Krauter (Bryan); eight grandchildren, Ryan Malmquist, Ashley Malmquist, Zoe Walters (Jacob), Ivy Casteel, Jordan Freeman, Abbie Freeman, Sydney Krauter, and Joshua Krauter; mother-in-law Jeannine Garey; sisters-in-law Natalie Phillips and Nancy Lutz; and numerous cousins. His family asks that if you are so moved, please make donations in his memory to either the Headwaters Trail System or the Three Forks United Methodist Church.

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