A Legacy Of Love, Laughter, And Generosity

A legend of Brothers’ Rugby League Club, the ultimate prankster, one of Mackay’s most successful businessmen, a salty plum and pickled onion lover. A husband, dad, brother, son and friend to many. There are many layers to remembering the legacy of Peter Phillips.

Approaching the one-year mark since Peter Phillips’ life was tragically cut short, his wife Denise and daughters Ashleigh and Ella reminisce about a man who was not just a husband and father, but a mischievous prankster and someone who wanted to see other people happy. While Peter's absence left a huge void, his loved ones find comfort in remembering the countless memories he left behind. Though they can't move on from his loss, they're determined to move forward, guided by the warmth of his spirit and the legacy of laughter and love he shared with them.

Peter grew up immersed in the vibrant atmosphere of the town's hospitality scene, with his parents owning and operating establishments such as the legendary Leichhardt Hotel.

It was his frequent visits to Byrne's Pie Factory, just next door to the family hotel, that ignited his lifelong passion for food and cooking. Under the watchful eye of owner Snowy Byrnes, Peter would eagerly lend a hand, shaping biscuits and gingerbread men with a cookie cutter.

His sporting prowess was evident from his early years, with rugby league serving as his playground of choice. From mini-footy with St. Joey's to donning the butcher's stripes for Brothers, Peter's talent shone brightly. Representing North Queensland and clinching junior premierships with Brothers in the 1980s, he quickly made a name for himself as a formidable force on the field.

A pivotal moment in Peter's life came when he crossed codes to attend Nudgee College in Brisbane, where he joined the ranks of the First 15 rugby team. It was during his time at Nudgee that Peter rekindled a romance with Denise Young, a Mackay girl, a relationship that blossomed into the cornerstone of his life. He signed a professional contract with the Gold Coast Seagulls at 18, which furthered his love story with Denise.

“There were many speedy trips to and from Brisbane and the GC in Pete’s Mazda and my Edgar Escort,” Denise remembered.

“Our parents were clearly mortified but powerless to stop us – our love and need to be together was too strong for both of us and we’d just drive!”

After moving back to Mackay, he was a force on the field for Brothers under the tutelage of his mentor, Mick Aprile, playing a pivotal role in the club's premiership victories in 1995 and 1997.

The couple kicked off their first business, a Mortgage Choice franchise, in 2000. As if life wasn’t busy enough, they welcomed their first daughter, Ashleigh.

“Never could there have been a prouder dad than Pete,” Denise said.

“Completely hands-on – never wanting to miss a single thing.”

Six years later, Pete’s heart was once again stolen by their second daughter, Ella.

The girls fondly remember their dad for being a prankster, but also for being the dad who was always there for them.

“It’s one thing to be a father, it’s another to be a dad, and mine was a dad you just couldn’t beat. A winner of winners,” Ella said.

“Something that I really admired about my dad was his motivation and drive.

“I remember him telling me that when he was a little boy, he promised himself that he would take his children all over the world, and that he did, and I will forever be grateful and cherish those moments we shared together.”

Ashleigh said that their dad was their soulmate, best friend and world.

“He made the impossible, possible,” she said.

“People saw him in so many different beautiful ways. He was everyone’s rock in a hard place, someone you could count on to be there no matter what or when.

“He would drop everything.”

Peter and Denise grew their business into what is known today as Gardian, one of Mackay’s biggest private-sector employers.

Despite his self-made success and passion for providing a family-oriented workplace for the Gardian team, Denise said that Peter’s generosity and caring nature are his greatest legacy.

“He was a fantastic father, a great businessman and a talented sportsman, but what I and many people love Pete for the most was his willingness to do anything for anyone.

“He would give you the shirt off his back.

“He was the first person to pick up the tab with a round of drinks and he just wanted others around him to also be happy and successful.

“That’s just the person he was.”

A couple of weeks after ANZAC Day in 2023, through some underlying medical issues, Denise said her husband’s body just went into a shutdown mode.

“I think he knew he wasn’t well that weekend.

“He was meant to go with us to Brisbane to get Ella’s graduation dress, but he stayed home.

“Pete’s mum dropped him off at the hospital and they just couldn’t get his pain to a level where it was ok, so they placed him in a medically induced coma to allow his body to heal, but he never came out of it.

“We flew home to be with him and they did everything they could, but he never came out of that coma.”

Denise said that Pete struggled with anxiety and depression and his pride was such that he didn’t bother others.

“Giving back was just his way – it made him feel good. He had no judgement of others and was always saying ‘What’s normal anyway?’”

Denise said that Peter was such a giver that he rarely left much for himself. Looking back, she realises that Peter, who had been unwell following the removal of his gallbladder, had started pulling away from people and work.

“It’s a reminder to tap people on the shoulder and ask them if they are ok, and to realise they may be pushing you away if they are hurting inside.

“Don’t give up on them.

“Because Pete didn’t give up on people, he was the first person to give someone a go, no matter who or where they came from.  

“He was the least judgmental person I know and he thought very often and very deeply about so many things.”