He was preceded in death by his parents, Louise and Robert (Bob) McFate and brothers.
He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Kate, children, grandchildren, two sisters, and many river friends.
Phillip grew up in the Cleveland area and began his river career as a deckhand for Weathers Towing after graduating from Cleveland High School in 1968. Phil worked as a deck hand and first mate before moving into the engine room. On January 21, 1971, Phil was a member of the crew on the Patrick D. Condon, owned and operated by the Warfield Towing Service of Greenville, which brought the first barge up the complete length of the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System arriving at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa on schedule. In 1972 he moved to St. Paul, Minn., and began working for Capital Barge as a deckhand. From there Phil went to work in Winona, Minn., for Waterways on the Hot to Trot and began his career as a pilot. He spent the winter of 1974-75 in the St. Louis area but returned to Winona in the spring of 1975 to run the Hot-to-Trot once again. Several years later he moved back to St. Paul and worked as a pilot for many companies, including: Twin City Shipyard, MN Harbor Service, Northern Towing, C&E Towing, Pilot River Transportation and finally Upper River Services on the Itasca. He was responsible for training many deckhands, sharing his knowledge of the river and showcasing the Mississippi River for many news organizations in the St. Paul area. In 1999 after riding the Itasca with Phillip, Charlie Maguire, the Singing Ranger, wrote the song “Pilot Daddy” using Phil as his inspiration for the lyrics. While working for Upper River, Phil brought the largest tow, consisting of 12 barges, through the channel in the St. Paul harbor. In April, 2000 he began working in Red Wing on Little Charlie for ADM.
His body was donated to the University of Minnesota anatomy bequest program and corneas to the Lions Eye Bank.
Memorials may be made to Cleveland High School Alumni Association, attn Steven Craddock, 300 West Sunflower Rd., Cleveland, MS 38732 or Friends of Pool 2, P.O. Box 284, Newport, MN 55055 or Sharing Life, attn Kris Goldade, 1742 James Rd, Mendota Heights, MN 55118.