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Phil was Always So Brilliant, Always had Interesting Insights

Robert Hecht, Chevy Chase, Maryland

I was in Wyoming in late March 2011 when I heard that a serious accident involving Phil had taken place, and he was reported to have died. The circumstances were at first obscure. Over the next few hours, things became clearer. I searched the internet and found the story of the Iguazu boating disaster.

I couldn’t believe Phil was gone. Just a few weeks earlier, I had had one of my regular lunches with him in Bethesda at the Daily Grill. Helen Saxenian and I were working on a piece for Health Affairs on immunization financing, and as always, Phil was our very attentive, supportive, and knowledgeable editor. He had invited my wife and me to dinner at his house in early April.

And then, Phil vanished just like that, in the blink of any eye. I never had a chance to say good bye.

I will miss his intellectual company, for sure. Phil was always so brilliant, always had interesting insights into any issue we discussed, whether it was risk equalization in health insurance or the returns to AIDS vaccine research. I learned so much from him.

But I will also miss his outsized personality, and his emotional side.

When we had dinners in Buenos Aires in the late 1990s, working together on health insurance reform, Phil would blow away the restaurant owners and waiters with his perfect Spanish (good accent, incredible grammar and infinite vocabulary), and would regale us with his endless tales and boundless knowledge of wines, history, politics, and literature. The legendary late night dinners in BA got even later when Phil was at the table. We rarely went back to the hotel before 1 am.

Phil was never one to suffer fools lightly, especially those policy specialists and academics whom Phil viewed as misguided, illogical, and just plain wrong.

But he was also very open in his approach to others, very democratic, happy to talk with anyone – young research assistants, students, cab drivers, anyone – who had a valid question or an interesting idea.

And he was surprisingly sensitive. Phil wanted the clear, logical, “right” view of the world to come out on top (in general, this was Phil’s own adopted view — and he was correct in this, I think), but he was upset when someone else who was less clear and logical attacked him personally.

Also on the emotional side, Phil deeply wanted to be a great father and a great friend.

I am happy that the Musgrove Legacy Fund and the annual Musgrove Memorial Lecture will help us to continue to celebrate Phil as an extraordinary human being.

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