Former town moderator dies at 88

MILFORD – Robert Philbrick was a kindhearted man, but you had to be a Democrat to live in his house when his six children were growing up.

Celeste Philbrick Barr remembers when she was 2 being at the Milford polling place in Town Hall and following her father’s instructions: “telling the old Republican ladies to vote for Kennedy.”

A couple decades later, Barr was returning home from a stint in the Peace Corps when her father told her he had switched to the Republican Party.

“I almost fell out of the car,” she said. “It was impossible.”

Philbrick, who died on Sunday, July 16, at age 88, had been one of New Hampshire’s most prominent Democrats in the 1950s and ’60s, and chaired the town, county and state Democratic committees for decades.

It was a time when being a Democrat in Milford wasn’t easy, Barr said.

“There weren’t a lot of them,” she said.

In 1984, Philbrick became state chairman for the Democrats for Reagan Write-in Committee. Later in the ’80s, he made a final break from the party, and eventually served as local chairman for the candidacies of George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole and George W. Bush.

Democratic leaders “finally asked him to step down” when he put a “Bush for President” sign on his lawn, said his son, Brendan Philbrick.

Robert Philbrick also was the Milford town and school moderator for many years. He organized and ran the town’s Labor Day parade for 50 years, during a time when it was a massive event.

“I remember seeing a list of 27 floats” for one of the parades, said Brendan Philbrick, who took over the job in recent years.

The Korean War veteran was a member of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion, as well as a long list of clubs, including the Knights of Columbus and the Milford Grange. He was one of the founders of Southern New Hampshire Services.

Maybe it was his Irish genes, his daughter said.

“People were his big motivation,” Barr said. “He just enjoyed them so much. … He didn’t care who they were – he was blind to social status.”

Brendan Philbrick remembers a wonderful father.

“We had so much fun. My father was so good to us – it was unconditional love,” he said, and that warmth extended to strangers.

One Christmas morning, someone knocked on their door, he said, and a stranger came in, walked from one end of the house to the other, and left.

“He welcomed anyone, anytime. … He never asked for anything” from the people he helped out,” Brendan Philbrick said. “He gave and gave.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or