MSU mourns the death of former provost and professor Dr John Philley


Dr. John Calvin Philley, 85, of Morehead, died on Saturday July 17, 2021. He was born October 17, 1935 in Indianola, Mississippi. He was the son of the late JW and Mary Philley.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Betty Lou (Davis) Philley; children, Dave Philley (Karen), Leigh Taylor and Melissa Clauson (Will); brother JW Philley, Jr. and sister Marsha Collins (Allan); grandchildren Jacob, Calvin and Jonah Philley and Jordan Philley Saylor (Josh), Will Taylor, Lilly and Sam Clauson.

Philley received a Bachelor of Science from Millsaps College in 1957 and continued his education at the University of Tennessee, where he received a Master of Science in Geology in 1961 and a Ph.D. in geology in 1971. The University of Tennessee is also where he met his wife, Betty, and the two were married in 1959.

Philley taught high school for a year in Vincennes, Indiana before moving to Morehead. He began his 37-year career at Morehead State University as the first full-time instructor in geology and physical sciences at Morehead State College in 1960.

Philley rose through the ranks, serving as chair of the physical sciences department from 1974 to 1986 when he was appointed dean of the former college of arts and sciences at MSU. He was academic director of the university from 1990 until his retirement in 1997. After his retirement, he taught two courses each fall term from 1997 to 2000, completing over 40 years of service at Morehead State University. .

He remained active after his retirement and was instrumental in securing funds to create endowment funds for the University’s geology program. His efforts resulted in him being named MSU Foundation Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year in 2003 and he was named a Foundation Trustee. He helped develop the MSU Retirees Association and was its first president. Philley was instrumental in establishing a major and minor in geology and helped develop the University’s environmental science program. He participated in the state’s Science and Math Alliance, which has helped mathematics and science teachers enrich their teaching skills. He received one of MSU’s highest honors, the Founders Award for University Service, in 2004.

A certified professional geologist, he is the author or co-author of 35 articles and guides in his field. He was active in the National Association of State Boards of Geologists and the Kentucky Board for the Registration of Professional Geologists. He has held positions with the Geological Society of Kentucky, the American Institute of Professional Geologists, and the Kentucky Academy of Science and has been named the latter organization’s “Outstanding Science Teacher” at the college level. He was a member of several honorary and honorary societies, including the Society of Sigma Xi and the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. He was the Chapter President of Phi Kappa Phi University for two years. It has been listed in American Men and Women in Science.

Instead of flowers, the family set up a memorial fund with the MSU Foundation. The fund will support students in the geology program. Friends and family interested in donating to the fund can visit Contributions can also be mailed to: MSU Foundation, 121 E. 2nd St., Suite 107, Morehead, KY 40351.

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