Abalos, Barber, Phillips mournedAttorneys, OC art professor remembered as exemplary professionals

Three icons of Odessa have died, attorneys Richard Abalos and Lawrence Barber and former longtime Odessa College art professor and artist Barry Phillips the Elder.
They were remembered Monday as stalwart men who practiced their professions in an exemplary manner and who were proud of and loyal to their hometown.
Abalos and Barber died over the weekend and Phillips last Wednesday. Abalos’ and Barber’s services were pending and Phillips’ was held privately.
“Richard was a true gentleman and a real character,” said District Attorney Bobby Bland Monday. “He was from the old school and had lots of stories. I was blessed to spend time with him and really get to know him. He was an amazing man.”
Bland said Abalos enjoyed reminiscing about his mentor, famed criminal defense lawyer Warren Burnett, and tell other stories about the early days of his career.
“Odessa has lost a great servant and a great leader in Richard,” the DA said. “He was very friendly and warm but also tenacious. He had a strong fighting spirit but was a friendly, warm guy, very funny and charming. He was one of the pillars of our legal community.”
Bland appreciated Barber as a ferocious advocate for his clients. “Larry and I had a different relationship early in my career in family law cases and we had number of heated battles in the courtroom after I became DA,” he said.
“I had found it difficult to get along with him, but I had considered him a good friend for the past number of years. I’ll miss him. We have lost a true champion for our citizens because he was willing to battle on any case, no matter what. There is a huge hole in our legal community now with his loss.”
Tryon Lewis, who was the 161st Judicial District judge from 1985-2006, said the news of Abalos’ and Barber’s deaths “is devastating for Odessa and certainly for our legal community. “It’s hard to bear any time of the year and it is especially hard during the holiday season,” Lewis said. “Both Richard and Larry were practicing when I got here. They were very active lawyers, great mentors to other lawyers, including me, as we came up and became trial lawyers ourselves. They are irreplaceable.
“Richard was working for Warren Burnett when I first met him. He loved the law and being part of the legal community and he was so helpful to other lawyers.”
Lewis said Abalos and his wife Delma, president of the ECISD School Board and a former Odessa College history instructor, “took an active role in community affairs and the community is a much better place because of them.
“Richard had a lot of pride, but he was never arrogant and that’s a good way to be.”
Lewis said Barber “was a trial lawyer all the time.
“Larry was a fearless advocate for his clients and a great mentor to young lawyers,” he said. “He was generous with his advice when it was sought.”
County Attorney Dusty Gallivan said Abalos “was one of the nicest attorneys and one of the nicest people I ever met.
“It was always a pleasure working with Richard,” he said. “He taught me professionalism, how to act in court and how to speak to clients and opposing counsel. He was compassionate and understanding of his clients’ situations, whatever those might be.”
Gallivan said Barber “was a zealous advocate of his clients’ positions.
“We didn’t always see eye to eye, but I respected that Larry advocated for his clients,” he said. “He had a certain way of doing things and that was just the way it was. But he was a good guy. He always did a good job for his clients and advocated for them regardless of what those positions might be.”
Abalos earned an associate degree in education and pre-law studies at Odessa College, got 90 hours’ credit at the University of Texas in Austin, graduated from St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio and opened his practice here in 1975.
“There was a time when I was trying more murder cases than any lawyer in the area,” Abalos said in September 2016. “I did encounter prejudice, but nothing to discourage me from being a good lawyer. It seemed that the jury panels weren’t fully accepting me as a lawyer, so I had trouble picking the best juries I could get for those particular clients.
“Sometimes I stayed here (at his 520 N. Lee Avenue office) all night, researching the law and looking at old files to see what I had done in similar cases. I went from here to the courtroom.”
Abalos had been a member of the Odessa College Board of Trustees since 2002 and had been active in the Ector County Democratic Party, Tejano Democrats and League of United Latin-American Citizens.
Appointed by Gov. Mark White, from 1983-89 he was a member of the Texas Youth Commission Governing Board, setting policy for the state’s juvenile detention system.
“Richard Abalos will be missed by this community. He made an impact on all who were blessed to cross his path. He was a kind and honorable man who cared about his family, West Texas, his culture, his community and Odessa College. From a personal perspective, Mr. Abalos served as Odessa College Board Chair when I was hired as Odessa College president. He went out of his way to welcome me, to help me acclimate, and to support me. I will miss him,” OC President Gregory Williams said in a statement.
The Abaloses have three children and two grandchildren. Barber was a native of Seagraves who graduated from Baylor Law School in 1962 and spent the first six years of his career in his hometown. From 1970-79 he was in Monahans, where he was district attorney from 1974-75.
“I average 100 criminal cases a year of all kinds,” Barber said in November 2017. “These people have a right to an attorney and I spend more time on appointments than I would if I was hired to make sure I get them done right.”
Petting Jaxson, the 3-year-old West Highland White Terrier with whom he walked each morning and afternoon, he said, “The only kind of case I won’t take is an animal cruelty.
“The closest I ever got was year before last after a man and a woman were fussing and he threw a hatchet at her and she dodged and he hit the dog and killed it. He wasn’t intending to kill the dog and if it had just been the dog, I wouldn’t have taken it.”
Barber was one-eighth Osage Indian, a 32nd Degree Mason and past president of the Rotary Club of Greater Odessa. He and his wife Helen have three children and three grandchildren.
Edwin Barry Phillips Jr. was an Ardmore, Okla., native whose family moved to Odessa in 1948. He was a 1957 Odessa High School graduate who attended Odessa College and the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles before taking a master’s degree in art education at Texas Tech.
Phillips began his teaching career at Howard Payne University in Brownwood and returned here in 1970 to chair the OC Art Department. He and his wife Sharon have two sons, two granddaughters and three step-grandchildren. He was 81.
Before his retirement in 2014, Phillips said he would miss the people at OC and his daily interactions with them. “My students were wonderful,” he said.
“Foremost, I will miss my students.”
Averaging 300 students a year, he estimated that he had taught 13,000 during the 43 years of his career. “Some of them I see in public and I call out their names and we talk,” he said.
“Others have been lifelong friends.”
Williams at OC said Phillips was one of the longest serving and most iconic instructors in the long history of Odessa College.
“He served our college, this community and its students very well and very proudly. His voice, his art, his strength, his positive attitude and his kindness were his calling cards and will be remembered. On a personal note, when I was hired as president of Odessa College, Barry Phillips The Elder, welcomed me as a friend, and offered me his full support. I will always be thankful for his wisdom and the knowledge he shared with all who would listen,” Williams added.