A voice for hope: Noblesville resident advocates for people suffering from chronic illness


Noblesville resident Lawrence “Rick” Phillips was recently recognized for his volunteer work and activism on a topic he knows quite well.

Phillips, who has Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylarthritis, was recently honored with one of the 2024 Arthritis Foundation Champion Awards, presented to “outstanding volunteer leaders from around the country who have made a significant impact on the arthritis community through their volunteerism,” according to the Arthritis Foundation of Indiana.

The awards were presented during the Foundation’s Pathways conference March 8 in Washington, D.C.

Phillips said he was “blown away” by the honor.

“It came as a complete shock,” Phillps said. “I know people who have worked so hard for the foundation. I’m still flabbergasted by it.”

Lawrence “Rick” Phillips, center, is honored at the Foundation’s Pathways conference March 8 in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Sammi Weyrauch)

Steve Taylor, president and CEO of the Arthritis Foundation, stated Phillps is one of the foundation’s “most vocal and dedicated volunteers.”

“(Rick) uses his voice and experience to further the priorities and core values of the organization in every volunteer role he holds,” Taylor stated. “Because of this passion, others have found their way to solace and comfort in the foundation.”

Phillips, 66, was first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes on his 17th birthday.

“I like to tell people the story because I found out while I was on a trip to Disneyland,” Phillips said. “I guess it isn’t always the ‘Happiest Place on Earth.’”

After receiving a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis in 2000, Phillips had to leave his job as a school business manager at Westfield Washington Schools.

“In 2008 when I left work, I was so depressed,” Phillips said. “I was in my early 50s and had to leave work. I didn’t want to do that and didn’t know what else to do.”

Phillips chose to get actively involved with the American Diabetes Association and the Arthritis Foundation of Indiana.

“I saw an ad in an arthritis publication saying they were recruiting people to join,” Phillips said. “I didn’t know anything about the Arthritis Foundation.”

On a national level, Phillips is active in many patient engagement projects, such as serving as a committee member on a project in partnership with the Arthritis Foundation and Brigham & Women’s Hospital. He has also served on patient panels at Pathways Conferences, where he has discussed the importance of patient engagement.

“I’ve been privileged to work on a national level reviewing grants for the Arthritis Foundation,” Phillips said. “I was a member of an FDA Patient Collaborative. I review (U.S.) Department of Defense grants for arthritis projects. It’s been amazing what I have found, and it’s been such a blessing.”

Locally, Phillps raises funds for the Jingle Bell Run and Walk to Cure Arthritis. He said his purpose and motivation come from his family, especially his mother, who also battled chronic illness before dying at age 48.

“My mom had diabetes and she was desperately ill,” Phillips said. “By the time she passed, she was blind and had lost all kidney function. She would say she was doing it for her children or her grandchildren. And that’s a legacy that I simply cannot ignore. I don’t think that I will ever be cured of arthritis, but if I could save my grandchildren and my grandchildren’s children from the life of inflammatory arthritis, then whatever I have put into it is more than worth it.”

Phillip’s goal is to continue working with the Arthritis Foundation for as long as he can, and he is also working to become a minister. He wants to continue advocating for people with chronic illness by volunteering for various programs and telling his story.

“People who are suffering from chronic illness often ask the question, ‘Why me?'” Phillips said. “I think the right question is, ‘Why not me?’ Without chronic illness, we would not have made as many medical advances. We as a society would not be putting resources into fixing the problem. There are people in this world who are truly suffering, and I am a reflection of that. I can share that with researchers, funders and the public.”

Phillips emphatically offers the following advice for anyone dealing with chronic illness: Surround yourself with good people and get involved in foundations and programs.

“If people are suffering from a chronic disease, the best way I have found to deal with it is to become involved in whatever community that exists and work for the betterment of people who also have that chronic disease,” Phillips said. “I don’t think that you work for yourself; I think that you work for the next generation, and there is nothing more rewarding than that.”

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From left, Sheryl Phillips, Rick Phillips’ wife and Rick at an event for chronic illness awareness. (Photo courtesy of Rick Phillips)


Sammi Weyrauch, the Arthritis Foundation’s communications chair, stated that the organization “has a mission to turn the obstacles arthritis causes into opportunities.”

The foundation provides ways for people to “connect, break down barriers in health care and join the fight to conquer arthritis.”

For more, visit arthritis.org.