Introducing the MSSC’s new director Phillip Brownlee

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Phillip Brownlee with Dr. Estephan Zayat, the MSSC’s 2016 president, and his wife, Janane.

Phillip Brownlee likes a challenge, especially one in pursuit of a mission. He saw both in the MSSC executive director position.

Brownlee officially came aboard at the medical society on May 16, although he had many get-to-know-you meetings with physicians, affiliate leaders and others before then. His hiring concluded a three-month-plus search that attracted more than a dozen candidates.

“What’s drawn me to health care and the medical society is the community service,” said Brownlee, who had been the Wichita Eagle’s opinion editor since 2001. “Doctors are dedicated to their patients and the well being of the community, and the medical society is very active in the community, in public health and other areas.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time initially visiting with staff and physicians and learning as much as possible about both the medical society’s operations and the work being done by physicians in the community,” he said.

Brownlee grew up in Sterling, the youngest of five children whose mother taught French and humanities at Sterling College and served as its academic dean in the 1970s. He attended the college and majored in accounting and business administration, a practical outlet for his “math orientation.”

College provided his first introduction to publishing when, as student body president, he took over the faltering yearbook. “I became the de facto editor. I knew nothing about design work, but I discovered I was good at it and loved doing it.”

Sterling College also introduced him to Laila, and they married in 1985, the year he began working for Judd Thomas Smith, a large accounting firm in Dallas. He did both tax and audit work and envisioned a bright future in the profession, but came to realize “it was not something I was passionate about it.”

That led him to recall how much he enjoyed being yearbook editor, a decision to change careers and a return to Kansas to serve as his alma mater’s public information director. The job involved writing, design, advertising and marketing, and strategic planning. Eventually, he concluded he needed more formal training in some of those skills, which took him to KU School of Journalism’s graduate program.

An internship as an Eagle editorial writer turned into, first, a full-time job and, five years later, promotion to editorial page editor. “The best thing about the job is that you deal with a lot of different issues and meet interesting people, so it’s ever-changing. It’s also very demanding, which I appreciate and enjoy.”

He knows the medical society will prove challenging and demanding as well.

“I’m someone who has a broad range of interests and skill sets,” he said. “The background in accounting and administration is important in the new job, as are the communications skills and analysis and civic leadership that have been part of my Eagle position. I don’t think there’s a direct link between some of my career moves, but they are all coming together in this move to the medical society.”

“I tend to be a mission-oriented person, and I value working in a job that has larger public purpose,” he said.

About Phillip Brownlee
  • Family: Wife, Laila, teaches English to speakers of other languages, primarily refugees, at Wichita’s Curtis Middle School; son, Lewis, 21; and daughter, Elaina, 19.
  • Outside work: Enjoys the arts, including visual arts, theater, live music, including the symphony. Likes to read for pleasure, but often finds it squeezed out by on-the-job reading.