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TCL > September 2012 Issue > David P. Phillips Retires as Executive Director of RMMLF After Forty-Two Years

September 2012       Vol. 41, No. 9       Page  21
In and Around the Bar
Bar News Highlight

David P. Phillips Retires as Executive Director of RMMLF After Forty-Two Years
by James M. King


About the Author

James M. King, a partner at Baker & Hostetler LLP, Denver, worked for the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation as a law clerk in 1975–76 and served as its president in 2004–05—(303) 764-4087,

For fifty-seven years, the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation (Foundation) has served as a center of legal scholarship and practical learning regarding natural resources—first centered on the West and now embracing matters of international scope and interest. For the last forty-two of those years, the dynamic and steady guiding hand of the Foundation has been its Executive Director, David P. Phillips. After this remarkable tenure, Dave retired as Executive Director following the Foundation’s fifty-eighth Annual Institute, held in July in Newport Beach, California.

When it comes to natural resource specialists, it is doubtful that anyone knows more lawyers, law professors, and other professionals in the Western United States than Dave. The Foundation’s focus spans oil and gas; hardrock mining; public land; water; renewable resources such as wind, solar, and timber; and all of the domestic and international environmental and land use issues attendant to those areas. Dave, amazingly, has kept up a working familiarity with all of them. This breadth of acquaintances and substantive knowledge has enabled Dave to help balance the interests of the many constituencies of the Foundation, making it internationally recognized for the quality of its programs and publications.

The Foundation and the CBA would like to pay tribute to Dave for his many accomplishments throughout his career. This short profile is one way of preserving a large portion of the history of the Foundation and at the same time recognizing Dave’s tremendous contributions and leadership.

Early Career

Dave grew up in Bradford, Pennsylvania, and received a BS in geological engineering from Princeton University, graduating with honors in 1956. He then migrated west to pursue a master’s degree in geology from the University of Wyoming. Following graduation, he worked throughout the oil and gas fields of the Mountain West for various subsidiaries of what is now ExxonMobil. The vagabond life of an exploration geologist eventually drew him to Durango, Colorado, where he met Elizabeth Ann (Annie) Edwards, whom he married in 1964 and who has been his steadfast companion ever since. They have three children, Betsy, Page, and Sara, and three grandchildren. Dave and Annie’s ties to the Durango area remain strong. One of their long-standing traditions is taking extended family vacations at their cabin at nearby Electra Lake.

Dave’s transfer to Corpus Christi, Texas by Humble Oil motivated him to change direction—career-wise and geographically—and enroll in law school at the University of Colorado in Boulder (CU). While in law school, Dave worked as a law clerk for the Foundation, which at the time leased space in the basement of CU’s Fleming Law Building. After receiving his JD in 1966, Dave worked for a number of years in-house with companies dealing with industrial minerals in Western Colorado and metallic prospects in the Western United States and Northern Mexico.

Dave and Annie were married in 1964.   Dave at the start of a long and distinguished career.

Moving Mountains at the Foundation

In 1970, Dave was hired as the Executive Director of the Foundation, thereby commencing his forty-two-year tenure of excellence. When Dave started, he was the head of a three-person staff overseeing less than $100,000 in assets. For the first year-and-a-half of his tenure, the job was limited in salary and scope, leading Dave also to practice law with the Boulder water law firm of Moses, Vranesh & Musick.

Now, forty-two years after he was hired, the Foundation benefits from more than $14 million in assets to fund its mission. To Dave’s credit, however, the staff required to oversee the Foundation’s wide-ranging operations has not grown proportionately. Only thirteen full- and part-time employees, including the Executive Director, currently oversee the publications, grants, scholarships, short courses, and annual and special institutes sponsored by the Foundation.

During Dave’s tenure, the breadth of the Foundation’s activity increased dramatically, both geographically and as to the number and type of programs presented. During the 1970s, for example, the Foundation sponsored annual programs and a handful of special institutes dedicated to the unique but provincial concerns of Western U.S. resource attorneys. In 2012, by comparison, the Foundation sponsored ten multi-day programs, many covering topics of international interest, including five short courses (two in Lima, Peru); four special institute programs; and the annual institute. In the past fifteen years alone, in addition to overseeing frequent domestic programs, Dave led the Foundation in sponsoring or co-sponsoring conferences in several Latin American countries and in Singapore, South Africa, and Turkey. He also managed the editing and updating of numerous publications, including the American Law of Mining and the Law of Federal Oil and Gas Leases; the Foundation’s digital library, which contains all of its scholarship produced from the fifty-seven years of institutes; and the award of numerous scholarships to students and grants to faculty at member law schools.

The Foundation now has members throughout the United States, Canada, and at least thirty-eight other countries. Motivating, and sometimes cajoling, hundreds of volunteers to contribute their valuable time and efforts to the Foundation’s committees, programs, and projects has been one of Dave’s greatest challenges—and he has excelled. He also has successfully forged important and enduring ties with other nonprofit resource organizations, including the American Association of Professional Landmen; the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators; the Institute for Energy Law of the Center for American and International Law; the Energy and Mineral Law Foundation; the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources; and the International Bar Association. Many of these organizations partner with the Foundation in the presentation of resource-oriented programs.

Dave’s tenure has been marked by the hiring and retention of an outstanding staff at the Foundation. It is a testament to his leadership skills that many employees have worked there for one or more decades, and that multi-generational links even exist among the staff. Few want to leave, because they all realize it would be hard to find a better place to work.

Bill Bryden and Dave at Ray Mine Overlook in 1985.

Embarking on New Adventures

Outside the office, Dave and Annie’s life has been one of adventure and exploration. River-running is one of their favorite adventures, and Dave has rafted through the Grand Canyon at least five times, most recently in 2010. When not challenging the rapids, he and Annie have trekked throughout the Western United States, including Alaska, Europe, and various remote areas of Latin America.

Dave and Annie in Mancos Canyon, 1990.   Annie and Dave with their three children—Betsy, Page, and Sara.
  Dave and Annie on San Juan River.

It would be easy for Dave to look back on his distinguished career with nostalgia and reminiscence. However, that is not Dave’s style. Dave respects the past, but he does not live in it. Instead, the more likely scenario is that Dave will continue to look forward, both to the Foundation’s next generations of members and to his own future. Dave’s retirement will not lead him to a rocking chair anytime soon; more than likely, it will lead to even more adventures.



Adventurer Dave and grandsons.


Expressions of Gratitude

The staff, officers, board, and members of the Foundation have expressed their respect and admiration for Dave’s long and distinguished service. The Foundation’s Trustee Council echoed these sentiments when it adopted an extensive resolution expressing the Foundation’s gratitude for his tremendous contributions, and named him a lifetime Honorary Trustee of the Foundation during the organization’s 2012 Annual Institute.

Thank you, Dave, for your direction and leadership at the Foundation, and for your contributions to Colorado’s legal profession. Your collegial leadership has been a model for all of us.

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