Pauline Phillips, Founder of the Dear Abby Advice Column, Passes Away at Age 94
Columnist was a champion for equal rights and welcomed into the homes and lives of millions.
Minneapolis, Mn. (January 17, 2013) -- Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips, who founded the most widely syndicated column in the world, the "Dear Abby" advice column, in 1956, died Wednesday at the age of 94 in Minneapolis after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.
In her column, Mrs. Phillips championed equal rights for women, minorities, people with mental illness and those who are physically challenged. The column has promoted AIDS awareness and education, hospice care, the living will, organ donation and also raised awareness about gender apartheid suffered by women in Afghanistan.
"I have lost my mother, my mentor and my best friend," said Jeanne Phillips, the daughter of Pauline and the author of the "Dear Abby" column for more than a decade. "My mother leaves very big high heels to fill with a legacy of compassion, commitment and positive social change. I will honor her memory every day by continuing this legacy."
An honorary member of Women in Communications, The Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry and the National Council of Jewish Women, Mrs. Phillips authored six books: "Dear Abby," "Dear Teenager," "Dear Abby on Marriage," "Where Were You When President Kennedy was Shot?" "The Dear Abby Wedding Planner" and "The Best of Dear Abby." "The Dear Abby Show" aired on the CBS Radio Network for 12 years.
Mrs. Phillips, whose family nickname was "Popo," wrote under the pen name of Abigail Van Buren. The name "Abigail" was taken from the wise woman in the Old Testament and "Van Buren" was adopted in honor of one of her favorite presidents.
Mrs. Phillips was born July 4, 1918, in Sioux City, Iowa. Her twin sister was newspaper advice columnist Ann Landers. Landers, whose real name was Esther "Eppie" Pauline Friedman Lederer, died at age 83 in June 2002 of multiple myeloma.
Even into her 70s, Mrs. Phillips reviewed hundreds of letters on an average workday. "Age has nothing to do with it," Mrs. Phillips once said. "It's only work if you would rather be doing something else."
The story of "Dear Abby" is an acknowledged phenomenon of latter-day journalism. It began in 1955, when Pauline Friedman Phillips, a 37-year-old newcomer to the San Francisco area, phoned the editor of The San Francisco Chronicle and told him that she could write a better advice column than the one she had been reading in the newspaper.
To her surprise, he challenged her to come in for an interview. Mrs. Phillips introduced herself as an average, middle-aged housewife who had been happily married to the same man for 17 years and had reared two "reasonably normal" teenagers. She explained that although she had taken journalism in college, she had never written professionally, but she knew she could write an advice column because all of her life she had been an amateur "wailing wall without portfolio." She had trained Gray Ladies (hospital volunteers) for the Red Cross and served as president of her local mental health society.
After hearing her modest credentials, editor Stanleigh Arnold wanted only to get this self-styled journalist out of his office, so he asked her to write sample replies to some previously published columns. She did, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The first "Dear Abby" column appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 9, 1956, and grew to be syndicated throughout the United States, and subsequently worldwide. The column was first syndicated in 1956. In March 1980, Mrs. Phillips found a home with Universal Press Syndicate, now known as Universal Uclick, the company that still distributes the column today. "Dear Abby," written now by Mrs. Phillips' daughter, Jeanne, is the world's most widely syndicated column, having run in 1,400 newspapers with a daily readership of more than 110 million.
When asked what she considered her greatest accomplishment, Mrs. Phillips was quick to say simply, "surviving."
The extent of the column's clout was evident in 1987 when "Dear Abby" ran a survey asking readers to send a postcard or letter (names were unnecessary) stating if they had ever cheated on their mates. Nearly a quarter of a million pieces of mail were received within three months.
That was topped by "Dear Abby's" 1992 appeal to readers to tell where they were on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. More than 300,000 people responded. Those answers were published in a book by Andrews McMeel Publishing called, "Where Were You When President Kennedy Was Shot: Memories and Tributes to a Slain President -- As Told to Dear Abby."
In December 2000, Mrs. Phillips and daughter Jeanne began to share the byline Abigail Van Buren. Jeanne officially assumed the title of Dear Abby in August 2002, when the Phillips family made the announcement that Pauline had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Jeanne continues to write under the pen name Abigail Van Buren.
Mrs. Phillips, who befriended millions in her lifetime, always enjoyed quoting a favorite Swedish toast: "Fear less; hope more. Eat less; chew more. Talk less; say more. Hate less; love more."
She was preceded in death by siblings Helen Brodkey, Dorothy Rubin and Esther "Ann Landers" Lederer and son, Eddie Phillips. She is survived by her husband of 73 years, Mort Phillips, daughter, Jeanne Phillips (Walter Harris), grandchildren Dean Phillips (Karin), Tyler Phillips, Jay Phillips, Hutton Phillips and two great-granddaughters, Daniela and Pia. Private services have been held. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her memory to The Alzheimer's Association, PO Box 96011, Washington, DC 20090-6011, or to The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), 383 Main Avenue, Fifth Floor, Norwalk, CT 06851.
About Universal Uclick
Universal Uclick is the largest independent syndicate in the world and a leading digital entertainment provider of humor, comic strips, political cartoons, and other content for print, Web and mobile devices. Universal Uclick provides editorial development, licensing and other distribution services for iconic brands like Doonesbury, Dear Abby, Miss Manners and some of the most significant comics in history, including Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, Garfield, Peanuts, Dilbert, For Better or For Worse, Cathy and Ziggy. Recent standout successes include Lio, Cul de Sac, Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy, Big Nate and The Argyle Sweater. A full comic catalog can be found at GoComics.com. For more information on Universal Uclick, visit UniversalUclick.com.
Gene Willis, Universal Uclick