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Tribute To J. Reese Phifer

Rep. Sonny Callahan

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Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to one of Alabama's most outstanding business leaders, the late J. Reese Phifer, who recently passed away in his hometown of Tuscaloosa. With your permission, I would like to enter into the Congressional Record an article that appeared in the New York Times which noted Mr. Phifer's many contributions, not only to the business world, but in service to the greater community as a whole. Mr. Phifer was a noted civic leader and philanthropist, and his death leaves a void, not only to his family, but to his beloved state and nation. The article is entitled: ``J. Reese Phifer, 82, Founder of Aluminum Screen Empire'':

J. Reese Phifer, who turned a tiny aluminum screen factory into a business that dominates its worldwide market, died on Sunday at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa. He was 82.

Phifer Wire Products Inc., which was stated in 1952 in an old warehouse by Mr. Phifer, a lawyer with no previous manufacturing experience, now employs more than 1,000 people to produce more than half the world's aluminum insect screening and more than 60 percent of the world's fiberglass insect screening.

The company that Mr. Phifer founded also produces Sunscreen, which block out solar rays and reduce heat, and Phifertex, a vinyl coating used on outdoor furniture.

Born on February 19, 1916, Mr. Phifer was the son of William and Olga Gough Phifer. His father operated a grocery store, and Mr. Phifer and his brother grew up delivering groceries and stocking shelves. He earned a bachelor's degree in commerce and a law degree from the University of Alabama. He also learned to fly airplanes which would later play an important role in his business. ``He set up a law practice and trained French and British Pilots in Tuscaloosa County when World War II broke out,'' said his brother, Joseph Tyler Phifer, of Tuscaloosa. Later Mr. Phifer ferried airplanes needed in the war effort from the United States to Europe.

After the war, he resumed his law practice, but he sought new challenges. ``He told me that he wanted to get into manufacturing,'' his brother said. ``He said that's where the money was. He looked all over for something that wasn't manufactured in the South. He came up with screen because we use more screen in the south than anywhere else.''

Once he started the Phifer Aluminum Screen Company in 1952, Mr. Phifer did a little of everything. ``He was doing the selling himself,'' Joseph Phifer said. ``He'd get in the plane and sell the wire and then come home and help make it. He had a little bitty office with one secretary and the guy who helped him set up the looms.''

The company was renamed Phifer Wire Products in 1956. In 1973, the company moved to its current site, and has experienced almost constant expansion.

Though he preferred to keep a low profile, Mr. Phifer was also widely known as a civic leader and philanthropist. In honor of his contributions to the University of Alabama, the university's trustees renamed the old student union building Reese Phifer Hall in 1991. It now houses the School of Communication. He also received an honorary doctorate from the university in 1984.

In 1964, Mr. Phifer established the Reese Phifer, Jr. Memorial Trust, a charitable arm of Phifer Wire, in honor of his son, who died in an airplane accident.

In addition to his brother, Mr. Phifer is survived by his wife, Sue Clarkson Phifer of Tuscaloosa, three daughters, Beverly Clarkson Phifer, Karen Phifer Brooks and Susan Phifer Cork, all of Tuscaloosa, and seven grandchildren.