MUBG Profile

Friends board recognizes a changing of the guard with gratitude and anticipation

Longtime MUBG board member, Larry McMullen, center, poses in the Marilyn Lacy McMullen Garden — which honors his wife — with UM President Mun Choi and McMullen’s law partner, John Phillips.

Longtime MUBG board member, Larry McMullen, center, poses in the Marilyn Lacy McMullen Garden — which honors his wife — with UM President Mun Choi and McMullen’s law partner, John Phillips. The latter recently joined the garden’s board. As alumni, both men have strongly supported their alma mater in actions and deeds and MUBG is grateful for their avid support of the gardens, and for their generosity with their time and expertise.

Like most enterprises, Mizzou Botanic Garden (MUBG) is steered by a board of directors working to help the garden fulfill its mission.


One of Friends of the Mizzou Botanic board’s longest serving members is Larry McMullen, and one of its newest is John Phillips. The men are close friends and law partners at Husch Blackwell in Kansas City. McMullen has practiced with the firm since 1959 and Phillips since 1971.


McMullen who is stepping down from his 16-year role on the MUBG board, recruited Phillips to take his place, with board approval.


“I need someone to step into my shoes and my first choice was John,” McMullen said. “He immediately agreed.”


McMullen and Phillips, proud Mizzou alumni, earned their law degrees in 1959 and 1971 respectively and joined the firm upon passing the bar exam. Both were first in their class and held the position of editor-in-chief for Missouri Law Review. And both are esteemed alumni whom MU has recognized in various ways.


McMullen served on the law school faculty; and Phillips was a member of the University of Missouri’s board of curators from 2013-2019. Both men served as on campaign cabinets for highly successful Mizzou capital campaigns.


“The greatest honor I’ve ever received from MU was an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. To walk down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance was thrilling,” McMullen said of his recognition at the 2013 Honors Commencement Ceremony.


Ties that bind

Not only did McMullen and Phillips attend MU, but many in their family have as well. McMullen’s wife Marilyn graduated from MU in1954 with a bachelor’s in education; and both sons, Michael and Andrew, earned law degrees. Phillips’ wife, Diane, earned a degree in education, graduating in 1983. Two of Phillips’ children, Beth and Jonathan also are MU grads. He said he is proud to have 11 additional MU alumni family members, even though, he added, some are “shirt tail relatives.”


“As an undergrad, I didn’t have much appreciation of the thrill of academia,” said McMullen, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from MU in 1953 and  three years in the Navy before returning to law school. “Law school taught me the joy of intellectual activity, and of course, the nuts and bolts of law. 


McMullen landed at the law firm McCune, Caldwell and Downing, founded by MU alumnus R.B Caldwell in 1916, after graduating upon his father’s advice. The older McMullen an attorney, himself. McMullen has spent a very successful 60-plus year career with the firm, now Husch Blackwell after undergoing a number of mergers. 


“My finest contribution came in 1971 when the firm manager said we needed another lawyer. He persuaded me to go to MU to ‘recruit the best man in the graduating class to join our firm,’” McMullen said. “I was successful, and John joined us as the lucky number 16 lawyer that year and has spent his entire legal career at Husch Blackwell.  We now have a law staff of 850 in 23 cities in the U.S.” 


Phillips’ wife, Diane, also earned a degree in education, graduating in 1983. Two of Phillips’ children, Beth and Jonathan also are MU grads. He said he is proud to have 11 additional MU alumni family members, even though, he added, some are “shirt tail relatives.” 


“John and I have been through a lot of experiences together, most of them happy,” McMullen joked. 


“Larry has made great contributions as a trial lawyer specializing in the defense of medical and engineering professionals,” Phillips said of his partner. “I came to the law firm because of Larry. He was my mentor and model for being a citizen in the community. He is one of the finest people I’ve ever known.” 


Being a trial lawyer of many years, Phillips developed a national reputation in the field of mediation and arbitration and served as the chair of the American Bar Dispute Resolution Section. Both men are recognized as leaders in their fields and are members of American College of Trial Lawyers. 


Campus turned garden

Both McMullen and Phillips remember the MU campus grounds as being largely neglected and bisected with well-worn student paths when they were students.


“When Larry and I went through school, the campus was mostly just lawns with some trees,” Phillips said. “Students didn’t respect the grounds.”


“The first MU Chancellor who thought it was important that the campus should be more attractive was Barbara Uehling,” McMullen said. “She took steps to initiate the beauty of the campus.


“The chancellor who carried the idea forward was Richard Wallace. He deserves credit for advancing the effort and making it happen. He made the campus designation as a botanic garden official.”


McMullen added that on a visit to campus he took a shortcut and stumbled upon a small secret garden behind the Ag School.


“It had a small stream and a bench in a lovely, secluded spot,” he said.


McMullen had discovered what was originally known as the Woodland and Floral Garden, installed by a student effort led by former MUBG board member Bill Ruppert, and others in the late 1970s.


“In my mind, that is the beginning of the gardens,” McMullen said.


On a recent visit to campus with his granddaughter, Olivia Phillips, a high school junior and perspective Mizzou student, Phillips said, “she was blown away by its beauty.


“It’s now one of the most beautiful campuses in the country,” he added. “It has become a recruiting tool.”


Looking ahead

Looking to the future, both MUBG board members would like to see the garden continue to develop collaborative associations with other entities on campus as well as with Missouri’s other public gardens.


“I think an emphasis on native plants of the Midwest would be beneficial,” Phillips said. “It would be nice as people walk around campus for them to appreciate that the gardens are not just a setting but are part of a school with an educational mission.”


Both McMullen and Phillips voiced the opinion that there isn’t enough physical recognition on the campus that acknowledges its status as a botanic garden.


“You assume that something special is going on but increasing plant identification on specimens and beds could show the casual observer why it is special,” Phillips said.


Both also would like to see MUBG have more autonomy within the university structure and not exist just as a function of Landscape Services.


“Pete [Millier, director of MUBG and Landscape Services] has been an outstanding leader of the garden. He and his staff are responsible for the beauty of the campus today. However, he has many other responsibilities and MUBG is a small part of that,” McMullen said. “We need a life of our own.”


McMullen admits that he personally is not much of a gardener. He did, however, fund one of MUBG’s first specialty gardens, the Marilyn Lacey McMullen Memorial Garden, to honor his wife. It’s located on the east side of the Jesse Hall steps facing the Francis Quad.


Phillips, however, is an accomplished gardener.


“I’ve lived for decades in Kansas City and have always had a garden,” Phillips said.


“I grew up in Jeff City and had access and spent weekends on a farm,” he said. “My father was an engineer in charge of the special “highway gardens” at the Missouri State Fair during August. I spent a lot of time there.”


Millier said McMullen has always been extremely supportive of MUBG and its efforts and that it has a been a pleasure to work with him.


“As a board member, Larry has been one of Mizzou Botanic Garden’s greatest advocates,” Millier said. “He has been extremely and effectively supportive of the garden’s efforts and initiatives during his time with us and promises to remain an active member.


“We could not be more pleased that he has handed the baton to his friend and law partner John Phillips. We look forward to John’s involvement and guidance as MUBG moves forward.”