It is an unequivocal fact that former Webster School principal Phil Cott was brilliant. Luckily, his early stint as an attorney was not nearly as satisfying to him as a prior job in education, so back to the schools he went, and—for the sakes of over 2,500 Malibu students—thank goodness for that!
Phil was a “teacher’s principal”; the kind that was always there to provide whatever encouragement, resources, prodding and support were needed and, then, most importantly, get out of the way, and let his teachers work their magic.
Throughout those years, there were speeches that Phil gave approximately a million times, each. Somehow, he was able to deliver these annual shpiels without driving his repeat audience members—or himself—to the dark side of boredom. He’d add new information about improvements that he had implemented, here; a new twist on the old information, there; and off-the-cuff humor, sprinkled throughout, making for a fresh pitch every time. And his legal skills of debate and negotiation were not wasted, when dealing with Malibu parents…
As gifted an administrator as Phil was, he always looked for opportunities to be involved in the classroom. He taught civics lessons to fifth-graders, put the younger ones at ease with his wacky costumes and ties, and knew every kid in the school by name. He provided stability and compassion during crises, including many wildfires and their aftermaths.
The education profession infiltrated Phil’s personal life, too. His wife Charlee was a teacher, and many of his best friends were fellow school principals. He motivated a large and devoted cadre of his students’ parents to pour their time, talents and treasure into the school, and stayed in touch with some for years after their kids had left Webster.
At his 2013 retirement celebration, Phil candidly told the crowd, “I really don’t know why I am doing this…” He seemed genuinely puzzled that he was giving up the job that he so loved. But, several years into his battle with kidney cancer, his body was declining at a pace that his mind never would. His warmth, his passion for education, his sarcastic wit and the twinkle in his eye were there to the very end.
Colleen O’Beirne Brydon
Webster parent, 1990-2002