Philip Mooney '66
"I may not be working in a school setting, but I'm still an educator," says Philip Mooney '66. As vice president for Heritage Communications at Coca–Cola Company, Mooney is the venerable firm's chief archivist and historian.
Frequently called upon to field questions about the history of the beverage and the company—recently, the NPR show This American Life interviewed him in an attempt to uncover the famed secret formula for Coca–Cola, which, he says, "remains secret, as it should"—Mooney is the reigning expert on all things Coke.
Always fascinated by cultural history, Mooney says his BC education prepared him for the unexpected opportunity to manage the Coca–Cola archives. "I learned how to approach a subject thoroughly and share my passion with others," he says.
A Lynch School of Education graduate, Mooney planned to teach. A stint in the archives at Syracuse University set him on a different path. From there, he went to Philadelphia to launch the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, a library and museum focused on the history of immigration, which opened in 1976.
When Coca–Cola asked him to professionalize its archive program and determine how its extensive collection of memorabilia could be a greater asset to the corporation, he took a leap of faith. He was being asked to build a program from scratch, in an area—corporate archive—that was then virtually nonexistent. He and his wife, Kathy, were both northeasterners who knew nothing about the South.
"I learned on the job," Mooney says. "It was an incredible opportunity."
Some 35 years later, Mooney is preparing to retire after building a highly respected archive system, guiding the company through its centennial and 125th celebrations, acting as liaison for thousands of collectors of Coca–Cola ephemera, and traveling the world to promote and preserve the company's heritage.
"The global reach of Coca–Cola has been the most impressive thing to me. It's the most recognized trademark in the world, and it's a product that touches everyone—regardless of socio–economic status, everyone can have a Coke," says Mooney. Thanks to Philip Mooney, they can place that Coke in a rich cultural context too.
What has been the most satisfying moment in your professional life?
I've created two public museums of Coca–Cola history—an unusual, exciting opportunity, and a lasting legacy.
In your personal life?
The opportunity to work with a global corporation has been extraordinary. I've traveled all over the world, talking about the company's heritage and history. That's been very personally fulfilling.
What is your next goal?
When I retire in March 2013, my first goal is to organize my own family papers—like the cobbler's children going shoeless, I've got bits and pieces all over the house. There's never been time to get to it! We've also got a lot of travel to do, beginning with a trip to Spain and Portugal.
What is the secret to success?
Flexibility. Be prepared to change course and consider alternatives. At a couple of key points in my career, I've had to be willing to try something unexpected. I decided not to pursue my doctoral degree. I took a leap of faith in moving my family to Atlanta to take the job with Coca–Cola.
The strong liberal arts education I got at BC helped prepare me to deal with change, and to embrace it; that's been very important in my life.
Why did you decide to attend BC?
I wanted a Catholic university that embodied the ethical and moral values of my family. Boston College was my aspirational school; its excellent academic reputation was compelling, and I felt it would nourish my moral development.
What is one thing everyone should do while at BC?
Enjoy the full college experience. Academics are the foundation, of course, but the campus activities are a rich and wonderful part of the whole. And at BC, you have a tremendous urban landscape to explore.
What is your fondest BC memory?
I loved the collegiality in the Lynch School of Education. I knew everyone well and got to interact with people from many different backgrounds.
Where is your favorite spot on the Heights?
Oh, Bapst Library. I spent a lot of time there. It's a beautiful place of peace and tranquility, refuge, and reflection.
How have you changed since graduation?
I never imagined that once I left BC, I'd never live in Massachusetts again. Before then, I'd barely left the state. Living in different parts of the country has helped me become a person who thinks more broadly and listens more deeply as I've had to learn to understand different cultures. That prepared me for interacting with people from every imaginable background, which has been a rich part of the Coca–Cola experience for me.
What would you do if you were BC president for a day?
Give all the money to the archives!
Where did you live freshman year?
I was a commuter student. I lived at home in Lowell.
What was your favorite BC class?
I took history with Fr. Thomas Grey, a Jesuit who became my mentor. He encouraged me to continue studying history and guided me towards my graduate work.
What was your favorite BC activity?
Football games on Saturdays. Everyone came together, and it was a magical time.
How much can you sing of the BC fight song?
I could sing all of it, but I won't.
What was your first job?
I went to Syracuse University for my master's degree, and when I finished I was at a crossroads—whether to go forward for my doctorate, or head in another direction. I took a job in the university archives while I thought about it. I found I loved working with original records and doing research, as well as helping Syracuse to secure new collections from donors. That job started me on a career I'd never thought about, but which has been incredibly fulfilling.
How do you relax?
I referee and coach youth soccer in the spring and fall. I like to say that I get to run on a field instead of running around in circles all day! It's a great way to stay physically active, and I love working with young players. I also love to travel.
What do you look forward to each day?
Seeing what new things will happen! One of the great things about my job is that no two days are ever alike—that makes it fun.
What is something your friends don't know about you?
I never expected that I'd become the spokesman for all things related to Coca–Cola heritage. But I've been on the Today Show three times, the History Channel, CNN, CNBC—and my greatest claim to fame: I was once an answer on "Jeopardy!"
Who would play you in the film version of your life?
I'd like to think it would be someone tremendously handsome. Wallace Shawn has been suggested: He's smart, thoughtful, funny, and charming. It's not for me to say!