Major General Philip J Conley

Major General Philip James Conley, Jr., USAF (Ret.) died peacefully on Thursday, October 7, 2021 in Santa Barbara, California at the age of 94.

A native of West Warwick, Rhode Island, Phil was born on May 22, 1927, to Philip J. Conley and Lillian L. Burns. In his youth, he was active in Boy Scouts and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Following attendance at La Salle Academy and Providence College, he was appointed to the United States Naval Academy, graduated in 1950, and was offered a commission in the newly formed (1947) United States Air Force. During the Korean War, he flew 100 combat missions as a forward air controller, serving with the Army’s I Corps and the 1st British Commonwealth Division. He then earned an advanced degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Michigan.

While living in Ann Arbor, he met Shirley Andrews and they were married in 1956. During his Air Force career, Phil flew over 4,200 hours in 86 different aircraft types, including the F-15, F-16, B-52 and B-1. His many assignments included service in the Vietnam War and as Chief of Staff of Air Force Systems Command. A highlight of Phil’s career began in 1978, as commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, CA. While there, Phil was responsible for over 400 test projects affecting the US national defense posture. Major flight test programs included the B-1, F-16, F-15, A-10 and F-117, and many of these planes remain primary combat aircraft in the Air Force today. Additionally, he was the Center commander for the first space shuttle landing on Edwards’ dry lake bed, and on July 4, 1982 he hosted President Reagan’s visit to view the first shuttle landing on a conventional runway. Following Phil’s retirement in 1983, Phil and Shirley moved to Santa Barbara where Shirley had graduated from UCSB. Phil’s Catholic faith was very important to him throughout his life. Phil and Shirley were active members of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, Montecito, for more than 30 years.

Phil served on several non-profit boards including the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation, the Flight Test Historical Society, and the American Irish Historical Society. In 2007, Phil was inducted into the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame. Throughout retirement, he travelled frequently to his family home in Rhode Island and to Ireland where, while tracing his family heritage there, he made many friends and felt very much at home. Phil’s Navy roots never left him. He rarely missed an annual Navy football game in Annapolis, MD. Phil and Shirley belonged to the Montecito Country Club and the Santa Barbara Yacht Club, and they supported many local organizations, including the Santa Barbara Zoo, Botanic Garden, and Natural History Museum. They regularly attended fitness classes together at the Montecito YMCA for over two decades.

Phil was preceded in death by Shirley, his loving wife of 64 years, in 2020, and by his sister, Helen Wray. He will be greatly missed by his children, Sharon Conley (Bill Sener), of Santa Barbara; Kathleen Conley, of Arlington, Virginia; Anne Pellegrini (Steve), of Newport Beach; and James Conley (Elsa), of Saratoga; and his grandchildren, extended family, and friends.

His family would like to express their deep appreciation to Dr. Dennis Baker, Heritage House Assisted Living, and Assisted Hospice Care for the exceptional care he received. A funeral Mass will be held at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, Montecito, at 10 AM on October 16 with subsequent services and interment in West Warwick, Rhode Island. The Mass will be live-streamed at https://bit.ly/MajGenPhilipConleyJrFuneral for those unable to attend in person.

Arrangements by McDermott-Crockett Mortuary in Santa Barbara.

Condolences to the family may be sent to Jim Conley, 20540 Komina Ave, Saratoga, CA 95070, philconley@cox.net.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to La Salle Academy (lasalle-academy.org) or the United States Naval Academy Athletics Department (navysports.com).