Richard “Dick” Harris Phelan of Auburn, a devoted husband, father and grandfather, died Feb. 14, 2024, at the age of 81.

Born Sept. 20, 1942, in Davenport, Iowa, the son of Martin and MaryKay Phelan, Dick graduated from Davenport High School in 1960.  Awarded an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, he graduated in 1964 and went on to pursue naval flight training in Pensacola, Florida, and Corpus Christi, Texas.  One year later, he received his flight wings and naval aviator status while training to fly P-2s with Patrol Squadron 24 in Jacksonville, Florida.

The posting in Jacksonville proved to be very fortuitous. A successful date to a Naval Ball brought Edna Moore into Dick’s life.  One year later in March 1966, the two were married in Orange Park, Florida, and over the next seven years they expanded from newlyweds to parents of four; Kelly, Lindsay, Scott and Todd.

Following their marriage, Dick and Edna began their military family journey, first moving to Norfolk, Virginia, prior to Dick being deployed to the Mediterranean.  He transitioned to flying P-3s and had further deployments to Iceland and Lajes Air Force Base in the Atlantic in 1968.

In 1969, he began a master’s program in operations analysis at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, California.  Upon graduation in 1971, he was stationed in Coronado, California, where he attended Vietnamese language school and survival training in preparation for deployment to Vietnam.

Dick served in the Vietnam War from January 1972 to January 1973, living in hamlets while flying into different areas throughout the country.  Those missions involved creating reports for Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam.  For his service, he was awarded the Bronze Star.

Following Vietnam, Dick served with several Navy patrol plane squadrons, including an operational test evaluation squadron in Key West, Florida, and Patuxent River, Maryland, that tested anti-submarine warfare weapon systems.

From 1982-83, he was the Commanding Officer of Navy Squadron VP-45, consisting of 12 anti-submarine warfare planes, 75 officers and 300 enlisted men and women.  The squadron was routinely deployed to the Mediterranean Sea.  He served as Chief of Staff for Patrol Wing 11in 1983-84, and continued his education at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, obtaining two additional master’s degrees in National Security and Strategic Studies and a Master of Science from Salve Regina College.

Following a three-year posting at the Pentagon serving on the Secretary of Defense’s staff, he received orders to move to Auburn, to become a professor of naval science and the commanding officer of the Naval ROTC program at Auburn University.  He oversaw the program for three years before retiring from the Navy in 1991.  In addition to his Bronze Star, Capt. Phelan also received the Legion of Merit Award, the Meritorious Service Medal with a Gold Star and several other medals throughout his decorated 27-year military career.

Dick and his family decided to put roots down in Auburn following his naval retirement, starting a second career in financial planning with Ted Wilson at Wilson Investment Group.  His love for service through his military days led to his leading role over the last three decades in the Auburn community.  He was chairman of the Auburn Veterans Committee, the past president of the Rotary Club, past president of the Retired Officers Association and past chairman of the Auburn United Methodist Church Financial Committee and the Naval Academy Blue and Gold.  For 15 years he was on the Board of Directors for the state of Alabama Special Olympics and was selected as Lee County’s Distinguished Citizen of the Year by the Boy Scouts of America in 2013.

One of his most lasting impacts in community service were the roles that he served as a member of the Auburn City Council for 16 years, eight of which he served as the Mayor Pro Tem for former Mayor Bill Ham.

Dick retired from Wilson Investment Group in 2021.

A very gregarious man who never met a stranger, Dick leaves a legacy of countless friends.  From fellow Midshipmen at the Naval Academy, the men he served with and commanded to the many constituents that he served and those he did business with.  In transitioning his business to his son Todd, he didn’t refer to those relationships as clients, but as friends, knowing minute details about each of them.

While he had many roles, deployments and responsibilities throughout his life, it was serving along-side “MoMo” in the role of “Pops” that brought him the most joy and satisfaction.  Grandfather to 10, “Pops” mastered the role, ready to do whatever it took to be there for all occasions and needs.  One of the highlights every Christmas was when “Pops” would serve as the Master of Ceremonies for the blind-draw for the “grands” to get one of his old caps or a cherished Peachtree Road Race T-shirt from when he ran for many years.

Dick’s unyielding commitment to his country through military service, his community through his volunteering and leadership, his loyalty to his lifelong friends, his dedication to his beloved wife and his support and adoration of his children, their spouses and grandchildren defined Dick Phelan.

He was preceded in death by his parents Martin and MaryKay Phelan and his beloved wife, Edna Moore Phelan. It is only fitting that he chose to join the love of his life Edna on Valentine’s Day for their eternal union.

Survivors include his daughters Kelly Parkman (Mark) and Lindsay Dendy (David), sons Scott Phelan (Holly) Todd Phelan (Alice); grandchildren Hannah Grace Dendy, Alex Parkman, Lyla Phelan, Conner Phelan, Will Parkman, Davis Dendy, Riley Phelan, Charlie Richard Parkman, Bennett Phelan and Ella Claire Dendy; and a brother, Jerry Phelan.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests a donation to the Special Olympics of Alabama.  To make the donation please use the link: Donate | Special Olympics | Support Special Olympics

A Celebration of Life is planned for Sunday, Feb. 25, at 3 p.m. CENTRAL TIME at the Auburn United Methodist Church, 137 S. Gay St., in Auburn.