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Hundreds mourn Phillippi
Trooper’s funeral draws police from hours away
Police and officials gathered Tuesday at McCabe Memorial Baptist Church in Martinsville for the funeral of Virginia State Police Sgt. J. Michael Phillippi. Above are (front row, from right) Lt. Col. Bobby Northern, Virginia State Police (VSP) deputy superintendent; Gov. Terry McAuliffe; first lady Dorothy McAuliffe; Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran; Lt. Col. George Daniels, VSP Bureau of Field Operations director; Maj. Len Terry, VSP Bureau of Field Operations deputy director; (back row, from right) Capt. Todd Taylor, Culpeper Division; Capt. Steve Chumley, Richmond Division; and Capt. Paul Kvasnicka, Appomattox Division. (Virginia State Police photo)
Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday at McCabe Memorial Baptist Church in Martinsville to pay their respects at the funeral of Virginia State Police Sgt. James Michael Phillippi.
Phillippi died on duty early Saturday as the result of a medical condition. His unmarked police car ran off the road that morning on Virginia 57, although the Office of the Medical Examiner in Roanoke said his death was the result of the medical condition and not due to any injuries sustained in the accident.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe and first lady Dorothy McAuliffe traveled to Martinsville to attend the funeral. According to Corinne Geller, public relations manager with the Virginia State Police, McAuliffe presented Phillippi’s wife, Peggy Phillippi, with a Virginia flag flown over the state capitol in Richmond.
“To have (McAuliffe) and the first lady join us was quite a privilege,” Geller said. Although it is traditional for the governor to attend funerals for state police officers who die in the line of duty, she said, McAuliffe was inaugurated only Saturday.
“We would have completely understood (if he had not attended) with everything else he has going on right now,” she said. “I think it says a lot that he would make the trip all the way out to Martinsville to attend.”
Local law enforcement officials, along with state police and highway patrol officers from as far as Tennessee and Delaware, arrived for the funeral, all dressed in uniform. Phillippi’s family requested that no media be present during the service.
Geller said the church was full during the service, with many law enforcement officers lined up against the back wall.
“You had law enforcement from all throughout the area, as well as fire and rescue squad personnel,” she said. “There was tremendous representation from throughout the region.”
Virginia State Police Sgt. Robert Carpentieri recalled Phillippi as a mentor figure.
“When I was a young trooper, I used to come down here all the time to work the Martinsville races with him,” Carpentieri said. “He made it more enjoyable. It was a long day, about a 16-hour day. He took care of us while we were here.”
Added Carpentieri, “He’s going to be sorely missed, not just by our department, but by members of the community. It’s going to be hard, but you have to move forward. Today is all about honoring his memory and reflecting on his 42-year career with the state police.”
Interim Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassady described the funeral service as “an excellent tribute to a great man.”
“He was such an icon with the state police and in Martinsville and Henry County,” Cassady said.
According to Cassady, the two state troopers who spoke at the service — Master Trooper Dickie Byrd and Senior Trooper Jeff Lovell — described Phillippi as a fatherly figure who was willing to help anyone in need.
“I can see him doing that, looking out after the younger ones,” Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said. “I never remember him having a problem with anyone. He was always very professional, helpful and caring.”
Perry said his office and the state police have a good working relationship, and Phillippi was always quick to help the county in any way he could.
“If he was out working, he always helped,” Perry said. “I never saw him in a bad mood. He was well-respected in the law enforcement community. Everyone had a high opinion of him.”
Former Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers said that “Flip,” as he knew him, was “in law enforcement for all the right reasons.”
“Being a devoted a public servant was what he enjoyed the most,” Rogers said, as evidenced by the fact that Phillippi, who was 65, continued working long after he could have retired.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him when he didn’t have a smile on his face,” Rogers said. “If he ever let anything bother him, I never saw it.”
Rogers said that he is proud of the close relationship between the state police and the Martinsville Police Department.
“Anytime we called on them for support, Flip was more than glad to help us out,” Rogers said. “He was more than a good co-worker; he was a good friend.”
He added that Phillippi was a devoted Christian and active member at McCabe Memorial Baptist Church.
Assistant Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Smith said that he knew Phillippi for many years and was shocked and saddened to learn of his death.
“He was in court about three or four weeks ago, and I was joking with him,” Smith said. “He had some traffic tickets he’d written .… I said, ‘I thought you were a desk jockey, what are you doing writing tickets?’ He said, ‘Well, sometimes you’ve got to get in the field a little bit.’ We were just kind of joking around. I don’t know of anybody I’ve ever heard say a negative thing about him. He was the kind of guy that got along with everyone.”
Dr. G.H. Vaughan officiated the funeral. Pallbearers were 1st Sgt. Eric Malone, Sgt. Brad Lane, Sgt. Buddy Davis, Byrd, Lovell, Senior Trooper Robbie Dillon, Senior Trooper Andy Roberts, Trooper Noah Knight and Trooper Kevin Mabe.