The Good Doctor
Orange County Regional History center
Q: Who was Dr. Phillips and why are so many things in Orlando named after him?
A: Hardly a day goes by that you don’t see or hear about something that bears the Dr. Phillips name, whether it’s the southwest Orlando suburb, a high school, a YMCA, a hospital or the soon-to-be downtown performing arts center. They’re all named after Philip Phillips and, no, we’re not talking the heartthrob guitar-playing winner of the 11th season of American Idol. But considering the citrus fortune our Dr. Phillips (1874-1959) amassed and the rate at which it’s been given to good causes over the past six decades, he’s certainly worthy of idol status.
Dr. Phillips was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and after obtaining a medical degree, operated a general practice there for a short time. But his heart was elsewhere. He came to Florida in 1894 and bought an orange grove near Palatka, only to see it destroyed by a freeze the next year. In 1897, Phillips moved to the less-freeze-prone Orlando area and started what would become a citrus empire: At one time his was the largest citrus operation in the world, boasting 5,000 acres of Central Florida groves. He also owned 18 square miles of land in the area today known as Dr. Phillips.
Besides numerous packing houses, Phillips had a processing plant/cannery at Orange Avenue and Princeton Street in the building that now houses Theatre Downtown. It was there his researchers came up with various innovations, including “flash pasteurization,’’ which took the metallic taste out of canned orange juice. Phillips also used his medical title as a marketing tool: The slogan “Drink Dr. Phillips’ orange juice because the Doc says it’s good for you” appeared on the labels of his products.
Phillips and his wife, Della, were supporters of the arts and education; after the Dr. P. Phillips Co. was sold in 1954 to a group that included Minute Maid, a foundation was established in his name. In the past 60 years, what eventually became Dr. Phillips Charities has given more than $150 million to various groups in Central Florida, most of it over the past 10 to 15 years, says Ken Robinson, president and CEO of the charity. The biggest chunk: $35 million to build Orlando’s downtown performing arts center, which bears the good doctor’s name.
Philip Phillips is buried in the Dr. Phillips Cemetery off Apopka Vineland Road. His tombstone bears this epitaph: “Under His Hand, the Wilderness Bore Fruit.”