Tony and Barbara Phillips met at a party, they sat on the floor together, and talked, and talked. Barbara says: “At the end of the party, I knew that was the man I wanted to marry.”
Tony felt the same. He said not so long ago: “I love her so much. In conversations they have always built each other up, paid each other compliments. Sounds like a good recipe – for a happy marriage.
At work Tony had outstanding business acumen, Barbara has wonderful creative talents. Their wit and humour always bounced off each other. And they never stopped holding hands, it was their trademark as a couple.
Tony would always phone me up with the latest news and was so proud when daughter, Jane, recently got the MBE in the Philippines, and he immediately said – it was with the support of his other daughter, Andrea, over here.
His big love, apart from Barbara and family, was business. He started up with a cheque in the form of £97.76p from the finance company where he worked, went to deposit it at the bank and walked out with a £750 loan to start his own business.
He began by opening fabric shops, then a travel agency, a restaurant and a bar. He became a respected Tory councillor. Tony told me one day, chuckling, that he’d left the bar to be run by a manager. One day, the manager decided to hire strippers. Of course the press loved that one – and when then prime minister Margaret Thatcher came down to visit the local MP, she said: “What’s that dreadful man Tony Phillips doing down in Gloucester?”
So Tony started again. He opened a bakery known as Jane’s Pantry. One shop grew steadily to 9 and, with the help of Barbara, his managing director Neville Morse and all the staff, it expanded into bakery catering, chocolate-making and also a food van delivery service.
Janes Pantry has always prided itself on quality ingredients in all the baked goods. Tony would not compromise on ingredients or price. He monitored every penny of outgoings and income. He was brilliant at business. His mind was razor-sharp. Two of the things he really cared about were accuracy and truth.
How did he become British Baker’s magazine’s columnist? I heard him speak at a National Association of Master Bakers annual conference. He was dissecting the balance sheet with devastating accuracy, but an equal amount of wit and humour. I thought: “If this man can write as he speaks, he’ll be a brilliant columnist for British Baker.
And so he was. The Simple Country Baker, as he was known – was simply – the best! It would sometimes take him less than 20 minutes to write out a column. He’d sometimes read it to me first and I’d say: “Great” - or else “NO!, you can’t say that – it wouldn’t be ‘politically correct’.” Then I’d hear peals of laughter and he’d say: “Well it’s just right then!”
He was proud, too, of Neville. He said: “ He’s marvellous in the bakery and no-one could work harder. He started with me 26 years ago, as a trainee baker, and is now the best MD the business could have.”
It was extraordinary that, as well as becoming the Master Bakers’ president and chairman, Tony became the first-ever English president of Retail Confectioners International, comprising over 300 top confectioners in the USA.
Years ago, Tony popped over to look at some equipment, was invited to their conference, then to become a member and last year ended up as president. When he became ill in September, they flew their flag at half-mast, brought it down, folded it and sent it here to Barbara and Tony. It was a mark of their great affection and respect. It moved Tony to tears.
Although very kind, Tony pretended to have a stiff upper lip. It wasn’t real. He was actually quite an emotional man, full of love, who enjoyed making use of the talents God gave him.
As a Christian I discussed faith with him. And, two years ago, he asked me to take him down a King James version of the Bible. He used to pray and recently he said he looked forward to starting to go to church with Barbara and Andrea as a family. But it was not to be.
He was very brave towards the end, exhorting Barbara to pick up her life after her period of mourning.
Finally, when Tony first launched personalised chocolate bars, he let people choose their own message, including. ‘Congratulations’, ‘Thank you’, ‘I love you’. Those are exactly the words he would want to say to you, his family, friends, and readers who have worked hard in life and have your own special memories of A Simple Country Baker and his comment in BB.