Manuel’s Tavern homicide victim ‘tried to help whoever he could’

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

Dean Phillips wanted to help everyone, especially children.

“He is that type,” his widow, Sandra Phillips, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. “He’s a protector. He’s always been a protector. He just tried to help whoever he could, in whatever way.”

On Oct. 27, Phillips died trying to stop a thief. Leaving a Poncey-Highland tavern, Phillips saw a man attempting to break into vehicles in the parking lot and told him to stop; the man shot Phillips in the chest, authorities said.

Patrons and employees tried to help Phillips, applying pressure to his wound to try to save him. The DeKalb County father left five children, the youngest of whom is 13. Phillips was 54.

On Monday, the investigation continued into the homicide outside the popular and iconic Manuel’s Tavern. Phillips’ family hopes witnesses and security cameras provided enough information for Atlanta investigators to find the shooter, who authorities say left the parking lot with a getaway driver.

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“Dean had a heart of gold. One of the most loving men,” Sandra Phillips said. “He really loved his family. He was the best husband a woman could ask for. He was my superman and I was his superwoman.”

The couple recently took a cruise with friends and would have celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary Sunday. Sandra Phillips now plans to carry on her husband’s legacy.

“I’m going to continue to fulfill the mission of Dean Phillips’ dream,” she said.

That dream included the Was and Now Foundation, an organization he founded to provide beds for children in underprivileged communities. He had also served with The Stewart Foundation, an Atlanta-based youth nonprofit leadership program.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

“Every child deserves a bed,” the foundation’s website states. “It is a human basic need.”

As a child growing up in Boston, Phillips knew of children who didn’t have their own beds, Sandra Phillips said. He would put together makeshift beds in his home for them. As an adult, the thought of children without beds still bothered him.

“We should start an organization that provides beds for kids sleeping on the floor,” Phillips told his wife.

Sandra Phillips said the organization was once able to provide beds to a family of six. It brought tears to her eyes seeing the faces of the children light up knowing they would have a bed of their own.

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Dean Phillips wanted to continue to expand the organization to help other children. It was simply his calling to help, his wife said.

Hank Stewart, the head of the Stewart foundation, met Phillips more than nine years ago and the two became fast friends and remained close ever since. They got into golf together, started riding bicycles and eventually Phillips and his wife joined the foundation. Stewart described his friend as caring and selfless.

“Our friendship became a brotherhood,” Stewart said. “We were kindred spirits. We were so close.”

Stewart said his friend was willing to help anyone who needed it and called his “senseless” death a huge loss for the community. Any time someone was down on their luck or needed a little help, Phillips was willing to offer them a job until they got back on their feet. 

“This didn’t have to happen,” he said. “I’m still in shock.”

Stewart and Phillips texted each other Thursday afternoon, just hours before Phillips was killed. In that conversation, Phillips said he found a new watch that he thought Stewart might like to add to his collection. It had a white face and a brown band.

Phillips had been to Stewart’s home hundreds of times but asked for his address so he could send the timepiece by mail. 

“So I’m getting a watch from him from heaven, I guess,” Stewart said.

The funeral for Phillips is planned for 11 a.m. Nov. 10 at World Changers International Church in Atlanta. Those wishing to honor him can donate to his organization.

Tipsters with information on the shooting can remain anonymous and are eligible for rewards of up to $2,000. Contact Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, tex information to 274637 or see the Crime Stoppers website.