Raymond Reynolds “Gonzo” Phillips Jr. was born in the Bronx, New York on January 30, 1953, to the late Raymond and Florence Phillips. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School, where he played for the football team. As a teenager, he dreamt of being a firefighter. He would “buff” the firehouse on Briggs Avenue, where his son Brian is currently a member.
Ray took both the NYPD and FDNY civil service tests. The police department called first, and he joined in 1974. A year later, he was laid off due to city cutbacks. Luckily, the fire department hired him, and he was sworn in on November 26, 1977. Upon graduating probationary school, he was assigned to Engine 42. Shortly after, he transferred across the floor to Ladder 56. Many years later, he transferred to Ladder 29 and then to Rescue 3 in 1990. Upon moving upstate with his family, Ray joined the South Blooming Grove Volunteer Fire Department in 1991. Ray was detail to Special Operations Command around the time of the World Trade Center attacks. He responded from quarters to assist in the search and rescue operations. Ray retired from the Fire Department of New York in 2003 after serving his city for 28 years.
Ray was not only a dedicated firefighter, he was also involved in many FDNY organizations. He was the vice president for the Holy Name Society and a member of both the Emerald Society and the Bravest football team. Ray’s true passion was playing Santa for over 35 years for the widows and children, which he did from 1982 to 2017.
Ray was a devoted husband and loving father. He is survived by his wife, Maureen, of almost 34 years, and his three children, Raymond, Brian, and Courtney. All three of his children are first responders. Ray is a police officer in the NYPD, Brian is a firefighter in the FDNY, and Courtney is a burn center nurse at Westchester Medical Center.
As the starting center for the Bravest and standing at almost 6 foot 3, Ray was a big guy. Some would say larger than life. This led to his nickname, “Gonzo,” which was a play on the word “Godzilla” from a fellow firefighter. It immediately stuck. To this day, if his family or friends met a fellow FDNY firefighter, he would say, “Ask them if they knew Gonzo!”
Ray will be missed, but the family and friends he leaves behind carry on the legacy he created—helping people.