He helped UWT succeed. Now he’s getting its first honorary degree

William “Bill” Philip
William “Bill” Philip

The University of Washington Tacoma awarded its first honorary degree Wednesday — 26 years to the day since its first commencement.

The honor was presented during the university’s graduation ceremonies to one of its founding fathers, William “Bill” Philip, founder and former CEO of Columbia Bank.

Philip, who just turned 90, is credited with contributing its first gift and with bringing UWT to its 46-acre downtown location rather than a parcel near Tacoma Community College.

Dawn Lucien, who spearheaded lobbying efforts for the school, was honored with a moment of silence during commencement proceedings. The civic activist died last weekend at 91.

“Bill Philip reimagined the future of Tacoma and the University of Washington,” the UWT Academic and Student Affairs Committee wrote in its recommendation to the Board of Regents in April.

“ … His commitment to the University of Washington Tacoma and to the ideal of accessible, excellent higher education is deeply deserving of this recognition.”

With the help of other Tacoma business leaders, Philip raised $1 million in 1990 and offered it to UW’s president with the condition the school be built downtown.

Additionally, he organized an effort to quietly buy downtown property to make sure it was available and prices didn’t skyrocket.

Philip also chaired the UWT Advisory Board for the two terms after the school opened its permanent campus in 1997 to graduate and transfer students.

The school welcomed its first freshman class in 2006, and in 2007 a 21,000-square-foot assembly hall was erected and named in Philip’s honor.

“Mr. Philip has been UW Tacoma’s foremost friend and advocate,” UWT Chancellor Mark Pagano said in a statement, “not just for the length of a legislative session, biennium or capital campaign, but for more than a quarter of a century.”

The UW Seattle campus has presented honorary degrees since 1885 and more than a dozen since 2002. The Bothell campus, which opened in 1990 along with UWT, awarded honorary degrees in 2008 and 2013.

Philip received his honorary doctor of humane letters degree alongside graduates in Arts & Sciences; Nursing & Healthcare Leadership; and Social Work & Criminal Justice at the first of two commencement ceremonies.

Because of the school’s growth, a second ceremony was held for students receiving degrees from the School of Education, the Institute of Technology, the Milgard School of Business and the Urban Studies Program.

Titania “TK” DeBell, a single mother and first-generation college student, spoke at the 10 a.m. ceremony. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Healthcare Leadership while working full time and raising her two sons.

The second ceremony’s speaker was Madeline Claire Pattin, a longtime volunteer and non-profit staff member who hopes to become a professional in the field of social services. She graduated in March with a bachelor of arts degree in Business Administration.

Also receiving an award at the first ceremony was Regina Harper, a B.A. recipient in Criminal Justice, who received the 2017 Chancellor’s Medal, which recognizes a student’s extraordinary achievement.

Harper’s health-care career ended when she was diagnosed a chronic illness, leading to her continued education at UWT.

At the second ceremony, Taylor Jones, a B.A. recipient with a double-major in Sustainable Urban Development and Communication, received the 2017 President’s Medal.

Jones was selected from graduating seniors with the most distinguished academic record.