Elliott Waite “Chope” Phillips, son of Philmont donor Waite Phillips and a generous philanthropist and friend of Scouting in his own right, died April 26 at his home in Amarillo, Texas. He was 97.
Chope, as he preferred to be called, was an active supporter of Philmont and even served on the Philmont Scout Ranch Committee. He received the Silver Buffalo Award, Scouting’s highest honor for adults.
He donated money to Philmont in times of need and gave away some of his family’s personal effects, photos and literature to put on display at the stunning Villa Philmonte on the ranch grounds. He and his wife, Virginia Lee Phillips, returned to Philmont again and again throughout their lives to see firsthand its impact on countless young men, young women and adults.
Philmont changed Chope’s life, too, of course. He grew up at Philmont and spent many summers working alongside the ranch hands there. He especially loved delivering supplies by packhorses to Fish Camp, his favorite Philmont spot.
Wanting to go back to Philmont
As a kid, Chope loved riding horses and working cattle on his family’s ranch just outside of Cimarron, N.M.
He later attended Menlo College in Atherton, Calif., and Stanford University. But the surf and sun in California couldn’t keep him away from Philmont for long. Each summer, he and his friends drove down Route 66 to the ranch and spent the summer working with the ranch hands.
After college, he spent some time working at an oil company in Kansas, but again Philmont’s magnetism pulled him back.
In 1941, he moved to Philmont and was put in charge of the acreage north of Cimarron. Three years earlier, in 1938, Chope’s father, Waite, and mother, Genevieve, donated 36,000 acres of their property to the Boy Scouts of America. (They would later donate an additional 91,000 acres.)
In late 1942, Chope was inducted into the army at Fort Bliss, an army post in El Paso, Texas. His army service took him all over Texas and to Miami and Colorado Springs, Colo. When he had a weekend off in the army, he returned to Philmont once more. He loved riding horses in the mountains he had grown to love as a boy.
A rancher through and through
In 1945, Chope purchased his first ranch and soon after married Virginia Lee, who also loved New Mexico, the outdoors and ranching. The couple purchased another New Mexico ranch in 1958 and loved sharing it with family and friends throughout the years.
They lived on their ranch and raised horses, maintained a herd of mother cows and pastured steers. They visited nearby Philmont often.
At the BSA’s National Annual Meeting in 1998, Chope received the Silver Buffalo Award. The four-word description for his award summarizes his Scouting legacy: “Rancher. Philanthropist. Scout Benefactor.”
Chope and Virginia retired and sold the ranch in 2002 before moving to Amarillo. There they rode horses, took overseas trips and visited friends and relatives.
Even in retirement, Chope was a friend and mentor to many fellow ranchers in Texas and New Mexico. In 2005, he was one of five ranchers from New Mexico and Texas to receive the Foy Proctor Memorial Cowman Award. The award recognizes men and women who literally grew up with cattle on a ranch somewhere in the southwest and who made their living from the “cow business.”
The story behind that unique nickname
He told this to Voices of Oklahoma in 2009:
My Dad had that ranch, and I had some cousins that were considerably older than I that worked there as college kids.
They’re all dead now, but they were a little older than I am. And they were working on the ranch, and they had cowboy-ed there for several years, and I was a kid considerably younger than they. When they’d come down, and I’d kid with them, why, they started calling me “Chopo,” which is a Spanish word. It’s kind of a slang word for “Shorty” in Spanish.
There were a lot of Mexicans in that country. That’s really what it came from. We just shortened it to Chope. As far as I’m concerned, I am the only one in the world that has that name, but it doesn’t mean much.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials be sent to Philmont Scout Ranch, 17 Deer Run Road, Cimarron, NM 87714. Attn: Steve Nelson.
Please include: “Memorial Gift for Elliott W. “Chope” Phillips” with your memorial.
Some information for this post came from this obituary. Hat tip: Thanks to John Duncan for the blog post idea.