Here are a few stories of Phyllis Eveleigh which she would be thrilled to hear told. I wish I could also tell a few jokes in her memory but no matter how hard she tried to teach me, I never became a purveyor of jokes. The stories are short and I think some are surprising.
Thanks Phyllis for the vivid memories that keep us connected. Read on to learn about bitches and babes.
Story #1: Tell them Phyllis sent you
Phyllis was a networker. She came up through the good old boy system of University of Cincinnati. and she knew how to use it. We were very lucky at Integrative Learning Center (ILCMA) that she had contacts for legal and tax advice.
She also loved to help people and was very quick to look for ways to do that without any thought for herself. These last few months, she took it on herself to introduce as many people as possible to Ruth’s Parkside Cafe. She met one of the owners, David Tape, through fundraising work for ILCMA a few years back. When I told her about Ruth’s, she started arranging lunches and dinners there. It was no small feat for her to get her wheelchair in her van, drive there, get a space and roll inside. Recently the wheelchair has been getting stuck in the van and she would have to call out the window for a passerby to help her. Not to mention people who don’t understand and block the side of the van so she can’t get back in the van when she would go to leave a place. But David would watch for her and make sure she got in and out. She was sometimes there noon and dinner or several times in one week. All strategically planned to bring another new face to David’s place. If you are in Cincinnati, go have a delicious meal and experience at Ruth’s and tell owners Mary Kroner and David Tape that Phyllis sent you. She will be very pleased.
Story #2: A bitch is a BABE in total control of herself
In 2004, I wanted to study Bones for Life with Ruthy Alon in New York City, but didn’t want to go alone. Thankfully Carol Ann Montgomery, Phyllis and Donna Lilley agreed to go along.
Us four Mid-westerners, who seldom got to see each other, found a corner spot in the room and increasingly became unmanageable for Ruthy. One night at dinner, we somehow started calling each other bitch and simply because it was so unlike us, we found it funnier and funnier. Our entire 15 days of beautiful movement was punctuated by calling each other Bitch! and a lot of stomach holding laughter over in our corner.
Phyllis taught us that bitch was really an acronym: a babe in total control of herself. And for the years that followed she would find trinkets that said babe and purchase them for us.
We fell in love with Bones for Life while there. This is also where Integrative Learning Center was born.
Story #3: Breaking the glass ceiling
In my view, Phyllis was responsible for breaking the glass ceiling for women at University of Cincinnati. As U.C.’s comptroller, she was able to go to the Bryn Mwyr College women’s leadership institute. She came back changed. That was probably 25 years ago. She shared the information with other U.C. female leaders and one of them (so sorry I don’t remember her name) was ready to follow in her footsteps. Not surprisingly this woman’s department head couldn’t find the money. Phyllis talked with her boss about the lack of funds and her boss replied that was absurd. “Tell her she has the funds. Apply and go.”
Several more women were sent over the next few years. These women banded together and formed a Leadership Academy, which eventually expanded to include most area universities. Phyllis could list off the women who had come through the academy and gone on to hold higher positions within U.C. or elsewhere.
Phyllis was easy to overlook as a leader at first glance. An error.
Story #4: She was a party gal
In the day, she could throw down the liquor. By her own account, the parties in the first third of her adult life were wild. One of her all-time favorite books was Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker (I believe this was the name–I know the end is correct). She lent the book to anyone who would read it. A rather sad story to me but not to her. Not surprisingly the main character was an elephant named Rosie.
Phyllis collected elephant memorabilia. An old boyfriend had given her something, a poster as I recall, with elephant subject matter and suddenly a passion was born. When she sold her house, there was over 2,000 elephant items not counting jewelry.
Phyllis was a social animal and she reined over the parties she hosted. Once she became paralyzed, and moved to Bridgeway Pointe, she let no grass grow under her feet. Early on, when joining her for lunch in the dining room, it was clear she reined like a social queen over the table making sure each person was introduced and included in conversation. Me, I would have been as depressed as hell and kept to myself. But she was making the best of her life as limited as it had suddenly become. Jokes continued to roll from her like water off a duck’s back.
For a year, she would feed me a simple joke a week in hopes I could remember it long enough to tell a client who loved to hear jokes. I managed a few, but when she would grill me a week later I couldn’t remember them. Even if she started the joke, I couldn’t remember the punch line. I am joke hopeless.
Today I will try to remember a joke and tell it for Phyllis, but I already feel amnesia coming on.
Story #5: Phyllis and Me
Since it is my birthday ( I wrote this on 12/24/2014), I thought I would tell Phyllis’s favorite story that involved her and I.
Phyllis liked to make sure I was in the room so I would interrupt and tell it like I saw it. She told it over and over and was looking forward to telling it to my sister when she visited next year. To draw the picture more vividly, I will share that Phyllis was a big gal.
The setting is again New York City 2004. Phyllis, who traveled a great deal, decided this time she was going to see all the normal tourist things she had never done and one morning invited me to meet her at Ellis Island. Phyllis and Carol spent a lot of time trying to keep me from getting lost because I can’t find my way out of a paper bag.
My job was to leave the hotel and meet her at the Ellis Island entrance. A 20-min walk turned into 2 hours of me being lost in the rain with no umbrella on a dying cell phone. She waited patiently. By the time I got there, we rushed through because we were to meet Donna Lilley at the Museum of Natural History at 1:00. Phyllis decided we would be better off taking the subway than a cab. “I will show you how it works. We will get you a pass for a week. It will be great.”
Phyllis now talking. “We get on the subway and I realize it is taking too long. I am thinking we are going under the bay. I tell Cynthia, I think something is wrong. I get up and am looking at the map. Again, I say, something isn’t right, thinking Cynthia is paying attention.”
“Hold it,” I say. “That is not exactly the way it happened. Phyllis mumbles something about a train, stands up to look at a map when the train stops and…. suddenly she is jumping like an African gazelle off the train in slow motion yelling, “Weee’rrrreee ooooonnn the wrooooong traaaiiin!”
I scramble to grab my backpack and run awkwardly to the door as the doors close between us. Phyllis on the other side has eyes as wide as they can be and she timidly waves to me.
Phyllis: “I am sure I lost her for good in the subway. May never see her again.”
So, down I go to the next stop. Of course, getting on the train back goes less than ideal. A whole other story. No cell phones work in the subway, so I stop where she got off just in case she stayed. She didn’t. I get back on and head for the museum when I realize our lodging stop is coming up and I think screw it. I’m done and get off. As I come to street level I call Phyllis’s cell. “Yeeelllo.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m sitting here getting my hair cut. ”
Yep she had met Donna. They had gotten a good laugh imagining what I heard Phyllis say, as she leapt off the train was, “You’re on your own bitch!” Then they split up and Phyllis went to get her hair done in NYC.
She told this story so many times….
Story #6: Family
I saw her on Monday and knew she might not pop back this round. Still she had rallied from being apparently out of it the day before to quite clear and talkative.
What did we talk about? She cooed when I put my hands on her legs. She was so glad to be touched and relieved of pain. She told a couple stories of the past. Yes, she shared her frustrations with the staff. But mostly she talked about Christmas. She thought her nieces and nephews were wondering if Christmas was going to happen. She had a gleam in her eye as she said this.
Phyllis was a dedicated aunt. Among the most involved I have ever seen and it has turned into a passel of children.
These kids with kids of their own still show up at Bridgeway Pointe for the family events like the Halloween party. Phyllis was so proud of them and the love they share.
I asked where the kids gifts were and she said they were all lined up in her apartment. Phyllis has adored the amaryllis bulbs I have been giving her each Thanksgiving and she commented that she was still waiting for this one to start peeking its head out.
As I went to leave, I asked if she wanted me to take her unopened present with me. She said yes, and that my gift was also sitting out for me and we would do it later.
Her room filled up that night with family and her sister Janet told me it was a beautiful evening together with laughter and songs. When it was too much, just sister and brother stayed until the end.
Above all Phyllis loved her family.
Merry Christmas Phyllis. Your legacy remains.
Story #7: A published writer
Phyllis was crazy about mysteries. She went to mystery conventions and met many an author. Early on, at one of these conventions, she made met a woman and over the years they became great friends meeting annually at a convention and rooming together.
And yes, she became an author although not in the traditional way. Jim Knippenberg lays out how 7 people teamed up to write Killing is Murder.
I won’t say Phyllis enjoyed the entire process. She had little patience for details and perfection. This was the part she didn’t love. But she was very proud of this unusual team endeavor.
Story #8 : A recovering accountant
Phyllis decided to start a Feldenkrais training around 55 years old. After becoming a Feldenkrais Practitioner, she went on to become a Sounder Sleep System teacher.
While from a conservative values and finance career, she was quite liberal in her thinking. She credited her capacity to engage in critical thinking and embrace expansive thought to her fine arts degree. As I recall philosophy was her major.
She explored a lot of paths to help her grow physically and emotionally.
I got such a kick out of her when she signed up for a soul retrieval workshop to get her spirit animal. She came back with a cartoon character. I am remembering Roger Rabbit but it may have been Harvey.
Once confined to a wheelchair, these explorations largely stopped but she continued to volunteer to lead the Bridgeway Pointe Gentle Stretch class when a substitute was needed. And heaven help the participant who questioned whether she should be leading it. “Don’t tell me I’m not qualified to lead this class. I’m a trained movement therapist!”
Story #9: The Big Sister
Phyllis was Big Sister to several young women. She tried to keep these relationships fresh over her and their lifetime.
She loved to tell of turning moments in her relationship with individual Little Sisters. Phyllis would listen to their damaging (although understandable) belief systems and then when the time felt right she would challenge that belief, show them the path it was leading down and lay out another possibility.
Phyllis so hoped for each of these girls to grow into women that knew of their essential goodness.
Story #10: Lessons learned, Almost Learned and Yet to Learn
Phyllis was an interesting person. To me she was a jumbled ball of emotions. Far from perfect, it was because of this jumble of humanness and my own judgmental nature that I was continually being caught by surprise.
About 5 years ago, she I and went on a several day retreat to her cabin in the Smokies to plan the following year for ILCMA. It was there that I realized I had never really ever seen her in her element. On her home turf for days, I saw how comfortable, forward thinking, flexible, intelligent and generous she was.
Here are some of my lessons from Phyllis.
Lessons (almost) Learned
Do not judge a book by its cover.
Phyllis was a large woman but she was a graceful mover. Far more athletic than I could ever hope to be, she golfed, played tennis and swam. She also liked to look good. When the hairdresser gave her a few wisps, she was so pleased. She once told me, big women like to look feminine too.
Clean up is as important as set-up
We taught some Bones for Life classes together early on. Phyllis would, by my standards, just barely show up in time. I would have worked an hour easily before she came for the perfect ambiance and structure. It took a few weeks before I realized, Phyllis would stay an hour afterwards cleaning up and I could let go of being ticked about her “late” arrival. And sure enough when I came in the day after she cleaned up, the energy in the space was much nicer. I clean up much better after events these days.
See an opportunity and go for it
One of the funniest stories from our NYC adventures was the day Phyllis went to the Empire State Building and from there was going to meet a friend a couple miles away. She was running late and didn’t see a cab getting her there on time so she jumped in a rickshaw. “Wow that driver made good time.” She gleamed, “And the sight of my dinner companion’s jaw dropping as I hopped out of the rickshaw was worth its weight in gold.”
Lessons to Learn
Make friends liberally. This woman made friends everywhere. By contrast I tend to hole up and have no idea how to even start up a conversation much less be open to making friends with virtually anyone. This remains a mystery to me.
Adventure as a party of one is as good as a party of two
Phyllis traveled alone and she traveled well. She found women who waited for a partner infuriating. As she said, “Why would I wait my entire life to get out there and explore?” From movies, to more exotic locales she didn’t let singleton stop her. Of course, she always had the ability to make friends anywhere she went to fall back on. Hmmm, I see a theme here.
Stay Connected to Friends
Phyllis was still regularly having lunch with grade school friends, friends from UC, tennis cronies etc. I am pathetic at this. Even find the idea frightening.
Phyllis was a good friend. Not my best friend but a good one and a very loyal one. I can tell a few stories because she was such an extrovert and shared stories liberally. Between our adventures here and there, working together for ILCMA and my almost weekly Feldenkrais visits since her failed surgery, I have had a lot of opportunity to listen.
Like me, she grieved hard when friends and family died. I miss her a great deal.