Waite Phillips and his identical twin brother Wiate were born near Conway, Iowa, on January 19, 1883, to Civil War veteran Lewis “Lew” Franklin Phillips and the former Lucinda Josephine “Josie” Faucett. Waite, the younger twin, was the seventh of ten children born into the family.
In 1899, at age sixteen, Waite and Wiate left the 40acres farm they called home, boarded a train and headed west. Their travels took them to most of the western and Midwestern United States and portions of Canada. As they traveled, they worked a variety of jobs to support themselves. Their adventure came to an end in Spokane, Washington, on July 16, 1902, when Wiate died as a result of acute appendicitis.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Waite Phillips built several office complexes, such as the Philtower and Philcade, as well as his mansion, the Italian Renaissance-style Villa Philbrook. He would later donate his immense house to the city of Tulsa, where it was transformed into the Philbrook Museum of Art. All these buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Interested in ranching, and in having a ranch with recreational activities, he began purchasing land in northern New Mexico near Cimarron. He built a mansion there called Villa Philmonte. His great-grandchildren occasionally vacation to this area. A restless soul, he would later donate about a third of the ranch, some 127,000 acres, to the Boy Scouts of America to found Philturn Rocky Mountain Scout Camp. Later, the name was changed to Philmont Scout Ranch. He also donated the Philtower Building to the Boy Scouts to financially support Philmont Ranch. He contributed substantially to the University of Southern California as well and the Waite Phillips Hall of Education was named in his honor in 1966.
Upon his wife Genevive's death on June 19, 1979, the bulk of the remaining estate was also donated to educational and medical charities. Mr. and Mrs. Phillips are buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.
He also owned a stretch of land in California, that was later developed into Rodeo Drive, known for its upper-class shopping. He was also the builder of what later became known as the "Robert Taylor Ranch."
Michael Wallis, Beyond the Hills: The Journey of Waite Phillips, Oklahoma Heritage Association, 1995.