Andrea Phillips: Waiting in Vermont
In an exclusive interview with Yankee, Andrea Phillips, wife of Captain Richard Phillips, talks about what her life was like in Underhill, Vermont, during her husband’s ordeal last April, when he was captured by Somali pirates. She maintains that their newfound celebrity hasn’t changed them. “We are who we are,” she says.
Click here for Audio version of Andrea Phillips interview
Yankee: When was the first time you knew something was different about Richard’s trip last April?
Andrea: I really didn’t think anything was different until I got the phone call Wednesday morning. It was from our neighbor Mike Willard, who lives up the road, who is also a Merchant Mariner. He called me up and said, “Andrea, what’s the name of Richard’s ship?” I said, “Why, what happened?” Because you don’t just call up a sailor’s wife and ask the name of the ship and not have something happen. Richard always told me that news from a ship is not usually good news. So when you hear something, you know it’s not good. [Mike] said, “I think it was just hijacked. I’ll be right up.” My sister happened to have spent the night with me, and she was getting ready to leave. This was very early in the morning–I think before 7:30. And I ran out to get her, yelling, “Leah, don’t go.”
Y: How much had you and Richard talked about pirates in the months leading up to this?
A: This was not news. I was not totally blindsided by it. As a matter of fact, it was during February; we had some friends up and we were talking about pirates, and Richard said it’s not a question of if, it’s when.
Y: Did you feel helpless?
A: I’m not sure “helpless” is a word I would use. I’m a pretty tough cookie, so I didn’t feel too helpless. I was a little scared. Everybody was trying to reassure me: “Okay, Andrea, you know the plan; they’ll want the money, they’ll get the money, and Richard will come home, but it takes a while. It doesn’t happen within days. Sometimes it happens in months.” So I was just trying to get that reassurance. Trying to reassure myself, even. They’re not out for blood. Maybe they’re not that nice to hostages, but they’re not out there to fatally injure them. Also, knowing Richard, I just believed in him, that no matter what the situation was, he’d play it right, he’d know the right thing to do. He’d know the course to take.
I know from my brother, who has sailed with him, he’s a different man on the ship. He’s focused; the ship is his responsibility, and he takes it very seriously. He has a huge responsibility and takes that responsibility very seriously, as he does as a father and [as] a provider in this house. The burden is on his shoulders. You know, last year he broke his neck playing backyard football, and we talked: “What if this doesn’t work out … What if I end up in a wheelchair?” He came very close to being paralyzed. He said, “What would happen if I couldn’t take care of my family?” It’s all about his responsibility. It was his ship, his crew, his cargo, and I just had faith in Richard as a man, as a leader.
Y: When did you find out that things had taken a turn for the worse?
A: Late Wednesday morning, we started getting people coming to our door. But at this point I wasn’t getting anything direct.
Y: What was your life like at this time?
A: I was with my sister and our neighbor. All of a sudden there were the local TV reporters; at one point we had two cameras and five people sitting on my couch, because I have a sectional couch. We’re glued to the TV, I’m still trying to call people at the company; at one point I actually sent Rich an e-mail, hoping to get something back, hoping maybe he could still get to a computer. He’d [sent] me an e-mail a few days earlier: “The pirates are getting restless.” I was just hopeful, wishful thinking [that] this is not going to happen to us. Little did I know.
Y: Tell me about the moon connection between you and Richard.
A: This goes back to our dating. He’d always send me at least a postcard from someplace, somewhere in the world where he’d been traveling. And he sent me one postcard that said, “I’ll see you in the moon.” And it became this little thing, because no matter where he was in the world, we’d still sit under one moon. And as our kids, Danny and Mariah, were young, I always wanted to keep Richard very much in their lives, because at 2 or 3 years old, out of sight, out of mind. We had pictures of Richard on the refrigerator, pictures of Dad’s ship, and we’d always say good night to “Daddy’s moon,” because I’d always say, “Daddy’s looking up and looking at you off the moon.” So that really just became a symbolic thing in our family when he was away.
And the fact that all this happened under a full moon was just like wow. I’d go to bed every night, and the moon was just outside our bedroom window, so just before I pulled the shade, I could see that moon, and I sent my thoughts to Richard via the moon. I guess deep down inside, I was hoping he was thinking the same thing: “We’re both under the same moon. We’re in this together.”
I do believe that there is a connection, there is a power up there. Because at one point for me in this whole event, I had a desperate moment when I needed to do something for Richard, and I thought if I could just get all this powerful energy and good wishes and all this positive energy to him, it would help.
Y: What did you do?
A: [Easter] Sunday morning I was lying in bed, and I was just thinking to myself, “God, Richard must really be exhausted; we’re going into our fifth day. I can only imagine how he felt. I thought, “I just have to do something for him.” What could I do from 7500 miles away? From the other side of the world, what could I do? That’s when I had this idea. We have a little saying that has sustained us during moments of family crisis, through fun times, and not-so-fun times. You would chant, “God is good”; then someone would reply, “All the time, all the time.” Then the other person would repeat, “God is good.” We picked it up at a Mass many years ago, and we just sort of hung onto it for ourselves.
So I thought, “If only I’d thought about this the day before,” because I had the bishop of Vermont calling me, and the local churches calling, all asking what they could do. I could have had the whole state of Vermont saying, “God is good” and have everyone reply, “All the time, all the time.” I thought that could just be the power I could give Richard. Something to hang onto. So after I thought, “Why didn’t I think of that before?” I finally got up and asked Alison to try and reach at least the local priest.
A: She was the woman sent from Maersk [the shipping company]. And she jumped out of bed. She drove to Morrisville and she got through to the priest and they did it.