‘Quick-witted’ Dave Phipps, former Douglas County election commissioner, dies at 44

Dave Phipps’ friends were used to him not responding to text messages right away, but they became concerned when they compared notes and realized that no one had heard from him for more than two weeks.

Carlos Castillo and other friends of the former longtime Douglas County election commissioner went to Phipps’ house Wednesday night. They called 911 when Phipps did not come to the locked doors.

Douglas County sheriff’s deputies found the 44-year-old Phipps dead inside his house in western Douglas County. He had been dead for some time. There were no immediate signs of foul play, Chief Deputy Tom Wheeler said. An autopsy was to be conducted Thursday.

Phipps served as Douglas County election commissioner for 10 years. Then-Gov. Dave Heineman first appointed him in 2005. Phipps was reappointed in 2007 and 2011 and served through 2015. He left office when Gov. Pete Ricketts appointed another person, Brian Kruse, to the post. Phipps was believed to be the longest-serving election commissioner in Douglas County’s history, at least since 1913.

Phipps had replaced Castillo as election commissioner when Castillo went to work for Heineman’s campaign. Phipps and Castillo had been friends since their college days at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where Phipps recruited Castillo to join a College Republicans group. Phipps was “a conservative guy” but not much involved in partisan politics since he became election commissioner.

“He loved being election commissioner,” Castillo said. “He liked the mechanics of elections. He was a super smart guy, and quick-witted, and he loved the people he worked with.”

There was a part of the job that Phipps didn’t like, which may come as a surprise to journalists and others who knew Phipps as affable, open and not defensive, even when he was under criticism, as happened a few times in his tenure.

“He did not like the public nature of it,” Castillo said. “He was a very private person. He liked having a few close friends. He liked a good steak, and Johnny Cash and reading a good book. He was a good friend and a great guy, and I’m going to miss him terribly.”

Phipps had not been working since he left the Election Commission. He was living simply while taking a break and figuring out what to do next, Castillo said.

Services are pending. Phipps is survived by two brothers, Douglas Phipps Sr. and Dale Phipps, both of Wakefield, Nebraska. Phipps’ sister, Debra, died in April.

Kruse said Thursday that he was notified late Wednesday of Dave Phipps’ death. Kruse told the Election Commission staff Thursday morning.

“Our sympathy goes out to his family and friends,” he said. “The staff worked with him for 10 years, so it’s a tough day here.”

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