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St. Helens councilor dies in Thailand on trip to bring home fiance

Friends, family, colleagues remember Phil Barlow as a passionate and dedicated city servant
by: Courtesy photo PLANNED TO MARRY — Phil Barlow and fiance Jirawan “Tan” Chomseang in Thailand.

Life-long St. Helens resident and City Councilor Phil Barlow died of undetermined causes Saturday evening in Thailand where he was on a trip to marry his fiancé Jirawan Chomseang and bring her back to the United States.

He was 39 years old.

Barlow and Chomseang had been dating for several years, and he made regular trips to Thailand to visit her.

Friends and family of Phil say news of his death comes as a shock. They will remember him for his outspoken demeanor, passion for politics and lovable nature.

'I hope he's remembered for his commitment and dedication to the community and his undying love and care for his family,' said Paul Barlow, his brother.

Phil's last official duty for City Council was attending a work session Wednesday afternoon via speakerphone from Thailand.

Three days later he died.

The day of his death, Phil posted a video to the online video-sharing website Ustream, in which he jokes with Chomseang and eats a bowl of spicy shrimp soup and rice. On Twitter, he referenced the meal and the six miles of walking he did through Bangkok earlier in the day.

He wrote on Twitter that he planned to take a nap. Several hours later, he awoke saying he felt ill, according to his father Clyde Barlow.

He asked Chomseang to pray with him before he died.

Paul said it sounds as if his brother died of a heart attack, but no cause of death has been determined. An autopsy is expected to take place, either in Thailand or the United States.

Family members said Phil had undergone a medical physical recently and had been given a clean bill of health. He had also quit smoking nearly eight years ago.

'Just because you are overweight doesn't always mean you have high cholesterol,' Paul said.

Phil suffered some medical ailments due to his weight, however, including a case of gout, his brother said.

Phil was unafraid to speak his mind, city officials say, even if he created controversy by doing so. After residents elected him to City Council in 2006, he quickly became one of the city's most prominent officials.

But in 2008 he was a subject of a recall effort, along with fellow city councilors Doug Morten and Keith Locke, for allegedly mishandling city funds. That recall petition was later scuttled when its author, Sally Gump, was threatened with a defamation lawsuit.

Mayor Randy Peterson sometimes sparred with Barlow during council meetings but called him a passionate defender of the 'little guy.'

'You couldn't fault his passion or his dedication to the city,' Peterson said.

City officials say he was also a strong proponent of improving communication between the city and its residents

Lt. Terry Moss of the St. Helens Police Department said Phil, acting as the city's newly christened police commissioner, gave him a directive on Sept. 16 to more regularly communicate with the public about police department activities.

Moss, the police department's spokesman, said he will take that suggestion to heart.

Communicating with the public was one of Phil's goals, Paul Barlow said.

He was instrumental in establishing a policy to post videos of city meetings to Ustream, where anyone with an Internet connection can watch the process at work. And during the summer, Phil turned a series of online videos he produced for his website into a weekly radio series broadcast locally on KOHI, in which he discussed local and national issues.

While in Thailand, he conducted a taped interview with Brad Avakian, a candidate for David Wu's empty 1st Congressional District seat.

The Barlow family has no date planned for a funeral or a celebration of life. The family is raising money to bring Phil's body back from Thailand.

On Saturday at 9 a.m., his friends and family will hold a bike race at St. Helens' BMX track, located in McCormick Park, to raise money to return his body.

Race organizer Halsey Davis said it was fitting to raise money on his friend's behalf at the BMX track. Phil and his brother - with the assistance of the family business, Barlow Bikes and Boards - were instrumental in developing the track.

'I know that Phil wanted to make the track a sort of haven for everyone. A place where you could go and hang out with friends, just be yourself doing a sport that you love,' Davis said.

Memorial Fund

The Barlow family is accepting donations to the Phil Barlow Memorial Fund at US Bank. Checks payable to the 'Phil Barlow Memorial Fund' can be sent to the fund, c/o US Bank, 59791 S. Columbia River Hwy., St. Helens, OR, 97051.