Phillip Lyle “Sandy” Burress was born in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota on May 25th, 1942. He came to Washington at three months old with his mother, older sister Beverly, older brother Ron and lots of soldiers heading off to WWII on a troop train. His dad, Lyle had gotten a good job in construction, building Ault Field in Oak Harbor and then building the Texaco Refinery, so the family settled in the Mt. Vernon area.
He was a big boy right from the start as you will see from one of the early pictures where his older sister is eclipsed by his size when he is 5 months and she is 4 years old. He has fond memories of the time they spent on a farm on the Britt Slough Road South of Mt. Vernon including napping on the side of his favorite cow. This is where he broke his arm at 5 years old. He climbed up a ladder to get apples from their tree and his 6 year old brother told him he couldn’t come down and had to jump. He promptly took the dare and when he did so landed on his elbow. This traumatic event cost him 23 days in the hospital and he was not a nice patient. He often spoke of this house and the times they had there.
Oct. 1, 1950 the family moved to the Cedar Street house that his mother still resides in and everyone still thinks of as the family home. Phil and Ron promptly made friends in the neighborhood and roamed all through the area as if it were their playground. Phil was always mechanical and way before the age he could purchase a car was tinkering in the back yard. He would build things as well and left a lot of sharp things in the yard, causing many flat tires and getting him in trouble.
He told many stories about riding bikes around town with his friends. A regular bike wasn’t innovative enough for Phil so he put a car steering wheel on, replacing his front handlebars. He really liked giving Mary Lou a ride home from school, as she would ride on the steering wheel of his custom bike. At 13 years of age he had a paper route of 125 customers. There were so many papers that on Sundays he had to make more than 1 trip loaded down to get them all delivered. He told us about one guy who griped about the paper not being tossed up on the porch consistently enough and not getting to him early enough in the morning. Well he decided to put that guy first on the route and he said he would get off his bike, walk up to about 5 feet from the door and using both hands heave it against the door with all his might at about 4AM. After a couple of days the guy called back and said just to do it the old way.
Phil had a job during high school where he and Van Ed Deming would go to a dentist office in the evenings and clean it. He also worked during high school for Bill Smiley’s Automotive Service, which was close to his home. He took great pride in his contributions to a winning football team and his name is still listed in the trophy case at the school. Ruthie worried about his safety while playing and had seen her brother Hersch get knocked out playing football, naturally she didn’t want to see the same thing happen to Phil. Eventually she relented and went to one of his games. Dad, one never to disappoint, promptly was knocked out at the game. As he laid passed out cold on the field, he awoke to his coach screaming in his face to WAKE UP!
Phil never smoked or drank alcohol in his life. During high school, Phil was always the designated driver and alcohol buyer for his friends, since he always looked older than his age. On one occasion he went into the Town Pump, buying a case of beer for everyone else to drink, as he was waiting for them to ring him up, his dad, Lyle, came in and sat down at the bar, not noticing him. Phil put the case of beer on his shoulder and patted his dad on the shoulder and said, “How ya doing Lyle?” on his way out the door.
As with all teenagers, he was hard to get up in the morning and one morning after being called several times by his mother, she approached closely and again told him to get up. Phil swung his fist at her while he was still asleep. She marched downstairs, got her broom and returned to beat him about the head and shoulders until he got up. He loved to tell that story because they always shared a teasing relationship. One time while working on his mother’s house he fell through the rafters to the kitchen floor and his hand was cut through the tendon. He had a little day surgery and wore a plastic bag over his hand and went ahead working anyway. Typical Phil.
In 1960, Phil graduated from Mt. Vernon High School. After high school, Phil attended Skagit Valley College for a one-year certificate program. At 21, he volunteered to join the National Guard. His basic training was at Fort Gordon, Georgia. He then had MP training and duty for the next 6 years, mostly at the Bellingham Armory.
After his service, he worked for Smiley again until he purchased a service station. At about 24 years old he bought the Texaco Station south of town and owned/operated it for 2-3 years.
In 1969 he moved to Seattle and began working for Western Utilities in their yard where he and Nancy met. He was working at Western Utilities during the day, a Standard Service Station another 8 hours every night then worked weekends for someone he had met at work, helping them with home repairs. They finally found time to get married in 1972.
Their marriage was characterized by working hard together. Phil was a generous father and husband and often accomplished impossible tasks for his family. His greatest impossible accomplishment might be the construction of a 5500 square foot house in Shoreline almost single-handedly while working full time. Even though it took ten years.
Phil was also a dedicated employee and at age 63, he retired from Anthony Construction after 30 years with the same company.
He was a father and friend to everyone he met, his good nature changed the lives of hundreds of people. From fixing cars, to hauling garbage, doing yard work, repairing houses, or helping people move, Phil always took care of others first. At times, it seemed like his least favorite word was “no.” Yet, despite the heavy work requirements he shouldered, Phil always took time to make sure everyone around him was happy. He lived this way even in his last days, joking with nurses and letting everyone know that everything would be okay.
Phil is survived by his loving wife of nearly 40 years, Nancy, his sons Rob, Rob’s wife Shelley Miner, Don and Tom, his daughter Suzy, granddaughter Luci Miner, and his mother, Ruth, to which he was always a devoted son. Also, brother Ron Burress of Vancouver, WA; sister Cindy Wood of Las Vegas, NV, brothers and sisters in-law include Stan Wood of Las Vegas, Jon and Elisa Rogers of Bow, Steve and Lynne Rogers of Mt. Vernon, Carolyn and Bud Russell of Bow, Pam Burress of Stanwood, and many unofficially adopted children, cousins, nieces, nephews, and dear friends. He was preceded in death by his older sister Beverly and his father, Lyle Burress.
After a short battle with cancer, Phil spent his last days overlooking Big Lake and surrounded by family and friends. He chose a moment in the early morning hours of April Fool’s Day when everyone was asleep to pass out of our lives so that we would not be troubled. While we will always be inspired by his life, we can’t help but wish he stayed a bit longer. Phil will be greatly missed by all of us.