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Mason Phelps(1925 - 2013)

Phelps, Mason Mason Phelps passed away at his home in La Jolla, California on Saturday, April 13, 2013, at the age of 88. He is predeceased by his parents, Mason Phelps and Louise Lamb Cowles, and his son, Taylor Phelps. Mason is lovingly remembered by his wife of 32 years, Elizabeth, of Monessen, PA; sister Marian Phelps Pawlick of Lake Bluff, IL; son Mason Phelps Jr. of Miami, FL; daughter Evans Phelps of Nevada City, CA; step-daughters Maria Toglia and Kristen D'Alessio; and many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Mason was born in Evanston, Illinois on January 18, 1925. His early childhood years were in Lake Forest until he attended Andover Academy. When WWII broke out he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and was deployed to the Pacific Theater on the battleship USS Indiana. When he returned to Lake Forest after the war in November of 1945, he attended Yale University. After graduating in 1948 he returned home and went to work for the family business, Pheoll Manufacturing in Chicago. As CEO in the early 1950s, he acquired Voi-Shan Industries (VSI), an aircraft fastener manufacturing company, and moved with the business to Pasadena, CA. Mason served as CEO and Chairman of the Board of VSI from 1953 to 1980. During his time at VSI, he was responsible for developing the threading technique of titanium bolts and fasteners for the aerospace industry. This innovation led to contracts with NASA supplying fasteners which held together the Saturn V rockets used through the Apollo missions to the moon. During this time, VSI also supplied fasteners to Boeing and McDonald/Douglas for most all of their aircrafts. From his Marine Corps experience of being apart of a well disciplined unit, he translated this philosophy to his approach to business. What resulted was a fiercely loyal team that worked hard (and played hard) toward a common goal. In 1980 Fairchild Industries acquired VSI and Mason remained as Senior Vice President and Director of Fairchild through 1981 before retiring in 1982. In 1985, Mason and Elizabeth moved to La Jolla, CA. Mason's interest in the world and desire to make a difference led to his dedicated involvement a number of non-profit organizations both before and after his retirement from business. A personal relationship with Louis Leakey led to Mason becoming a lifetime trustee of the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation in 1976, serving as it's President from 1988 to 1992. In retirement Mason broadened and cultivated his love of art, compiling with Elizabeth an exquisite and highly personal collection reflecting their shared experiences and sensibilities. His interest in art also led to his being a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego from 1986 to the present and President from 1991 to 1993 as well as a lifetime trustee of the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego since its inception. He served as trustee of the La Jolla Playhouse from 1984 to 1990 and President from 1989 to 1990. Mason also notably served as a Director of Marshall Industries from 1962 to 1990 and Director of Clow Corporation from 1970 to 1985. Mason, above all, loved his family and friends. From this foundation, he served as mentor, sounding board and foil to his sister, children, cousins, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a great many friends. Beneath his playfully gruff and boisterous exterior, he was principled, loyal, generous, compassionate and real. His love of life was infectious and ever-present. He was simply the most fun guy to be around. A true exemplar of the greatest generation, Mason left a large and lasting footprint on the world. He will be profoundly missed by the many people whose lives he enriched.
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Published in Chicago Sun-Times on May 10, 2013
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