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CIA officer and art museum chairman Laughlin Phillips, 85, dies

Laughlin Phillips, shown here in 1975, called himself
Laughlin Phillips, shown here in 1975, called himself "weak on art history." Still, he helped guide a resurgence of the Phillips Collection. (Larry Morris/the Washington Post)
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"The big job I faced was to gradually upgrade everything without changing the spirit of the place," Mr. Phillips told Washingtonian in 1999. "We had to take a lovable old house and create what we think of as a full-fledged professional museum."

Laughlin Phillips was born in Washington on Oct. 20, 1924. He was 6 when the family moved from its downtown manse to an 18-acre estate on Foxhall Road Northwest designed by celebrated architect John Russell Pope. The Phillipses' Foxhall home became a noted salon where the family entertained diplomats, politicians, opinion makers and artists.

At the same time, Laughlin Phillips described a protective upbringing.

His only sibling, Mary Marjorie, spent much of her life in institutions after having contracted encephalitis as a toddler. "She was severely brain damaged and never got beyond being four years old," he told Washingtonian. "Mother spent endless hours with her, believing she would get well."

Mr. Phillips was chauffeured each day from home to the private St. Albans School. After graduation in 1942, he attended Yale University for a year before serving in the Pacific during World War II and earning the Bronze Star Medal. He chose not to return to Yale, his father's alma mater, and instead enrolled at the University of Chicago on the GI Bill. He joined the CIA soon after obtaining a master's degree in philosophy.

During this period, he married Elizabeth Hood, and they had two children before divorcing. Mr. Phillips later married Jennifer Stats Cafritz, the former wife of Conrad Cafritz of the Washington real-estate family. The Phillipses moved a few years ago to Connecticut from the District.

Besides his wife, survivors include two children from his first marriage, Duncan V. Phillips of San Francisco and Liza Phillips of Narrowsburg, N.Y.; four stepchildren, Julia Cafritz and Daisy von Furth, both of Northampton, Mass., Eric Cafritz of Paris and Matthew Cafritz of the District; and 15 grandchildren.

Under Laughlin Phillips's oversight, the museum expanded its library and archives and made several key purchases for its collection, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Jackson Pollock and Morris Louis.

At times, Mr. Phillips was forced to make difficult decisions about selling a prized work of art to keep the museum functioning. Washington Post art critic Paul Richard wrote witheringly of Mr. Phillips's decision to place Georges Braque's cubist painting "Music" (1914) up for auction in 1987. The work fetched $3 million.

Mr. Phillips answered that his father had often been willing to sell works of art to sustain the larger museum. "The museum's character has always had an innovative element," he once said. "It can't be sealed and preserved."

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