Paul Phipps grew up in Hopkinton as one of five siblings whose parents struggled during the Great Depression.
His father was legally blind, his mother was a seamstress, and the family took in boarders to help pay the rent. Mr. Phipps, who yearned for a decent pair of socks, delivered ice to help out.
That upbringing had a profound impact on Mr. Phipps, who became a respected World War II veteran, insurance executive, and supporter of the Boston Marathon who generously gave of his expertise and time.
“Dad always gave the benefit of the doubt, never complained, and looked for the good in everyone,” said his son Robert of Sutton. “His youthful poverty rendered him incapable of leaving a store without buying something, often later gifted to someone in need.”
Mr. Phipps, a founder of Hopkinton’s Chamber of Commerce and Little League, an inductee to the Hopkinton High athletic hall of fame, and a host to legions of runners on Marathon Monday, died Dec. 23 in Beaumont in Willows, a nursing care center in Westborough. He was 91.
“I always marveled at his logic and good sense when we served together on the Boston Athletic Association board of governors,” said Gloria Ratti, a vice president of the board and archivist for the association. “He was the voice of reason during some tumultuous times when the Boston Marathon was deciding whether to award prize money. He had very high personal and professional standards.”
Mr. Phipps and his wife, Ruth, opened their home on Main Street in Hopkinton early on Patriots Day for runners of all abilities. During the past several years, the couple made breakfast for a contingent of runners from the Carolinas, and in the past even the legendary marathoner Johnny Kelley was an overnight guest.
“They vacationed in Myrtle Beach, and when Dad saw someone running, he would give them his address and tell them if they were in Hopkinton for the Marathon to drop by,” his son recalled.
Betty Floyd of Marion, S.C., was one of them.
“In 2003, I was running the Boston Marathon for the first time and feeling really overwhelmed and out of my league,” she said. “Mr. Phipps assured me I was right where I belonged and that I’d do well in my race. You couldn’t walk through the kitchen or the den because of all the runners stretching on the floor. Marathon morning won’t be the same without Mr. Phipps.”
A three-sport athlete, Mr. Phipps graduated in 1939 from Hopkinton High School, where he was a standout fullback and was offered a football scholarship to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.
“Dad, who hitchhiked to college on occasion, injured his knee and couldn’t play football,” Robert said. “He went to the Jesuits and told them of his situation and they told him not to worry as long as he kept up his grades.”
When Mr. Phipps attended Holy Cross football games years later, his son said, he visited the Jesuit cemetery on campus out of respect and gratitude.
An English major, Mr. Phipps was part of the class of 1943, and was presented his diploma in December 1942. An ROTC cadet, he joined the Marine Corps.
While at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in 1943, he married Ruth Berry, whom he had met in third grade.
Rising to the rank of captain, Mr. Phipps was one of seven Hopkinton residents who fought at Iwo Jima in the Pacific theater in 1945. He was among three living survivors from the town interviewed by artist Dustin Neece as preparation for his oil painting of that battle, “Honoring the Spirit.”
“Meeting Mr. Phipps was humbling and had a profound impact on me,” Neece said. “Learning firsthand about Iwo Jima from a man who lived through one of the most dramatic experiences of human history changed the way I see the world and my own life.”
Before being discharged in 1948, Mr. Phipps was a Marine special services officer at the segregated Montford Point camp in North Carolina.
“At the request of his men, and after seeking and receiving grudging approval from his superior officer, he served as coach and caught for the base’s all-black baseball team,” his son said. “Dad insisted on eating and sleeping with his teammates when they were denied equal accommodations on road trips. He always spoke highly of their athletic ability and their dignified acceptance of what would be an intolerable situation today.”
Mr. Phipps was a longtime member of the Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton, where he was on the board of directors and served as tournament chairman. He celebrated his second hole-in-one there at age 82.
In 1950, he established Phipps Insurance Agency, which is now run by his son, and in 1975 he served as president of a New England organization of independent insurance agents. That year, he arranged for Ronald Reagan to speak to the group at its convention in Boston and drove the future president back to Logan Airport.
Mr. Phipps was 85 when the Hopkinton Chamber of Commerce honored him as its man of the year.
“Paul was the consummate gentleman who never sought notoriety and he was truly one of Hopkinton’s first sons.” said Tim Kilduff of the 26.2 Foundation, formerly the Hopkinton Athletic Association.
Through the Kiwanis Club, Mr. Phipps and his wife once escorted a young girl who was suffering from encephalitis to Walt Disney World with her family.
“Long after she passed away, my Dad sent cards and ice cream money to the family, whom they often visited,” Robert said.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Phipps leaves another son, Richard of Levittown, N.Y.; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A service has been held and Mr. Phipps was buried with military honors in Evergreen Cemetery in Hopkinton.
“Paul was a doer, never jealous or envious of anyone,” his wife said. “The day we were married, the day he came home from the war, and the day our first son, Rob, was born were the happiest days of my life.”