School 12

John Calvin Philley

October 17, 1935 ~ July 17, 2021 (age 85)


John Calvin Philley, 85, of Morehead, Kentucky, passed away peacefully on Saturday, July 17, 2021, surrounded by his family.  He was a talented educator and administrator, a dedicated church member and a loving and compassionate husband and father.

John was born October 17, 1935, in Indianola, Mississippi, to the late J.W. and Mary (Farrar) Philley. He graduated from Indianola High School (Salutatorian) in 1953.  His senior year, he was the (145 pound) starting center on Indianola High’s undefeated football team.  After high school, John attended Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, earning a B.S. in Geology in 1957.  He continued his education at the University of Tennessee, completing a M.S. in 1961 and a Ph.D. in 1971. 

While at Tennessee John fell in love with a pretty undergraduate, Betty Lou Davis.  The two were married in August of 1959.  After a year in Vincennes, Indiana, where John taught High School, they moved to Morehead, Kentucky.  John found a job teaching college and Betty worked for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers on the Cave Run Lake project.  He would spend the rest of his life in Morehead, raising a family, serving his church and the University. 

He was employed by Morehead State University (then Morehead State College) in 1960 to be the institutions first full-time Instructor of Geology and Physical Science.  After a 37-year career, John retired from the University on June 30, 1997, and was named Professor Emeritus of Geo Science.  During his 37 years he attained the rank of professor, serving as a fulltime faculty member until 1974.  As a faculty member he was instrumental in developing and implementing the minor and major in geology and later the environmental science program.  He then served 12 years as chairperson of the Department of Physical Sciences, three years as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and his last seven years as the Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty.  After his retirement, he taught two classes each fall term from 1997 until 2000, completing over 40 years of service to Morehead State University.

He was a member of several honor and honorary societies, most notably the Society of Sigma Xi and the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.  He served as President of the University’s chapter of Phi Kappa Phi for two years.  He was listed in American Men and Women in Science.

During his long tenure at Morehead, he served on and chaired many committees at all levels throughout the University.  He had leadership roles for the institutional self-studies for the reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools conducted in 1978-80 and again 1988-90.  He helped plan and carryout the inauguration activities for two University presidents. 

For a period of ten years from 1967 to 1977, John and his fellow faculty colleagues at Morehead were engaged by the U. S. Geological Survey and the Kentucky Geological Survey on a part-time basis to convert several the 7 1/2 -minute topographic maps of northeastern Kentucky to geologic maps.  He was personally involved in producing five of these maps, namely the Bangor, Cranston, Soldier, Wesleyville and Salt Lick geologic quadrangle maps, the last one unassisted.  His longtime interest in Mississippian carbonates of northeastern Kentucky is reflected in the publication of these maps and their accompanying texts as well as in the several oral papers, published abstracts, and guidebooks he authored for professional organizations and societies during his career.  He wrote a series of newspaper articles dealing with unique aspects of northeastern Kentucky geology.  He contributed an article on Eastern Kentucky’s fire clay deposits to the Kentucky Encyclopedia.

John sought to help his profession by promoting and seeking legislation for the registration of professional geologists practicing in Kentucky.  The efforts of many individuals over many years to convince the General Assembly to enact the registration legislation was documented by John in the 1990 Proceedings for a National Colloquium on Professional Registration for Geologist sponsored by the Association of Engineering Geologists.  The General Assembly in 1992 finally passed a registration act, and John was one of five geologists appointed the newly created Board for the Registration of Professional Geologists.  He served as chairman of the board from 1993 until 2001.  The registration board joined the National Association of State Boards of Geology, and John served as Secretary, Treasurer and President of this national board.

He held the distinction of having served as president of the three prominent state-wide science organizations; the Geological Society of Kentucky in 1985-86, the Kentucky Section of the American Institute of Professional Geologist in 1988-89 and the Kentucky Academy of Science in 1980-81.  He also served two years a chairperson of the Academy’s Board of Directors.  As Board chairperson, he initiated the Distinguished Scientist Award.  As KAS president he established the Kentucky Academy of Science Foundation, Inc, which was incorporated at Morehead.

He served as member of the Board of Directors of the Kentucky Science and Technology Council for many years, the least several until his retirement in 1997 as the Council’s Secretary-Treasurer and a member of their executive committee.

John was a dedicated member of the Morehead United Methodist Church.  He served the Church in many ways, including Sunday School Superintendent, Lay Leader, and on the Board of Trustees.  He was active in the Builders Sunday School class and the United Methodist Men group, organizing their annual golf scramble fundraiser, despite not being a golfer.  For years he would come in early on Sunday mornings to get the coffee going.

John was a member of the Kiwanis Club in the 1960’s and 70’s and was active in the club’s sponsorship of the Morehead Little League.  He served as the Little League commissioner for many years in the 70’s.

He also became known as the family genealogist.  He brought his academic prowess to researching and documenting the family history and eventually published a family newsletter.

John was preceded in death by his parents, J. W. and Mary Philley; and his infant brother, Robert Russell Philley and sister, Betty Lou Lassetter.

Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Betty Lou (Davis) Philley; children, Dave Philley (Karen), Leigh Taylor, and Melissa Clauson (Will); brother J.W. Philley, Jr.  and sister Marsha Collins (Allan); grandchildren Jacob, Calvin and Jonah Philley and Jordan Philley Saylor (Josh), Will Taylor, Lilly and Sam Clauson.

A celebration of John’s life will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 24, 2021, at Morehead United Methodist Church, 227 W Main St, Morehead, KY, 40351. Visitation will be held from 1 – 2:30 p.m. before the service.

In lieu of flowers, the family has set up a memorial fund with the Morehead State University Foundation and Morehead United Methodist Church.  The MSU fund will support students studying in the Geology Program.  Friends and family interested in donating to the fund can visit  Contributions can also be mailed to: MSU Foundation, 121 E. 2nd Street, Suite 107, Morehead, KY 40351.  For the Morehead UMC donations, family and friends may visit  Contributions can also be mailed to Morehead United Methodist Church, 222 W. Main Street, Morehead, KY 40351. 


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July 24, 2021

1:00 PM to 2:30 PM
Morehead United Methodist Church
227 West Main Street
Morehead, KY 40351

Celebration of Life
July 24, 2021

2:30 PM
Morehead United Methodist Church
227 West Main Street
Morehead, KY 40351

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