When Robert Phillips retired last week, it seemed half of the county was there to wish him well. Commissioners, employees, civic leaders -- even Portlandia star Sam Adams -- attended events to honor a key architect of both Multnomah County's and the City of Portland's diversity and equity programs. February 28th was proclaimed Robert Phillips Appreciation Day!
In addition to all of the well-deserved love that people showered on Robert, there were a number of people who praised both his encyclopedic knowledge and the meticulous documentation he maintained.
I can personally attest to Robert's love of archives. The County Archives recently accessioned the records accumulated by Robert in his 27 years working for the county. Dozens of boxes of records, covering events from the late 1960's to the present were transferred to the County Archives.
They include records of the earliest inclinations of the county towards a more diverse and inclusive workforce and community. These documents from the late 1960's, just a few years after the Civil Rights Act, are key in providing perspective on how far we have come in forty years. Other documents in the collection tell us how much further the County still has to go.
Other records tell the story of how the Diversity Conference began and grew into a regional force. Or how the employee resource group, Managers of Color (see image), was developed. Or most importantly, how affirmative action evolved into diversity and then into equity and inclusion.
The County Archives is currently working to arrange, describe and make these records available for research. This often takes some time with a collection as large and complex as this one. But these records, and the irreplaceable information they include, would not exist if it wasn't for the foresight and dedication Robert showed in documenting his work for future users. They provide us with a view of the past, understanding of the present and information for the future.
We all owe Robert our gratitude for insuring their preservation.