25 September, 2005

A Life Well-Lived

I don't know how appropriate it is for me to post on this site the obituary of a woman I have never met, but I was moved by what was written about her life. I am a fatalist of sorts? And have often thought "What will be said of me when I am gone?" wondering what legacy I will leave, since most days I feel like I am merely going through the motions, that perhaps I am merely equal to a tree going through the seasons and nothing more. I hope that someone might think this fondly of me.

STEPHENS, Phyllis Bartlett - Phyllis Bartlett Stephens passed away in her sleep on September 10th. Given the life she led and the energy she exuded, it could fairly be said she has passed on to a well-deserved rest. As her mother often said of her, Phyllis was a dutiful, hard-working, caring and intelligent human being from that day in May, 1925 when she was born. The Central Valley was not big enough for Phyllis and shortly after her salutatory address to her Corcoran High classmates in 1943, she left for Stanford. While there, in addition to her dutiful attention to the honor roll, she met a gangly, mediocre pre-med student named Richard Stephens. They continued to date after graduation and in 1948 were married. One year later to the day, the first of their eight children arrived. Over the next 56 years, Phyllis gave herself to raising and supporting her children and grandchildren. But of course, she had energy to spare and an intellect that needed exercise. Her many activities included over 20 years in the San Mateo School system, volunteer work at St. Vincent DePaul, the St. Francis Center, Friends of the Belmont Library, "Friendship House" of San Mateo County Mental Health, AAUW, Twin Pines Cottage and many other groups. She also slipped in some bridge playing. Phyllis also managed to make time for simple statements of her basic beliefs and humanity - whether marching in Delano with central valley farm workers or riding the annual MLK Freedom Train into the City, she was always there to show her support for those not given the love and respect they deserved. Perhaps more than any other, Phyllis devoted her energies to the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Belmont. Her sense of community, based on love, honesty and acceptance (and more than a little humor), was nowhere better illustrated than in her time spent with family and friends at the many parish events held over the past 50 years. Whether she was serving up pancakes in the Parish Hall, or playing the role of Diamond Lil' in the melodrama, she supported and cavorted with her IHM friends and enjoyed every minute of it. Phyllis would no doubt bristle at the suggestion that her "community service" activities were worthy of praise. To her, these were just things people did because they were the right thing to do. She never sought recognition and she rarely, if ever, complained. Perhaps Phyllis' greatest accomplishment in helping others was being able take from it as much as she gave. She understood and appreciated that the love and attention she provided to others less fortunate than her would come back to her in equal measure. The love she gave to her mental health patients or the people at St. Francis', to name a few, could never surpass the love and pleasure she felt in return. And that is Phyllis' legacy. She not only talked about love, fairness, tolerance and Christianity, she lived them every day of her life. Her example will live on in the lives and work of her family and friends. Phyllis leaves behind a loving husband, seven children and their spouses, and 13 grandchildren (and thankfully, her recipes for Aunt Gussie's Pound Cake and her famous brownies). While she will be missed, her family feels very lucky to have spent their lives with Phyllis, and all of them are very proud to call her their wife, mother or grandmother. If desired, Phyllis would have encouraged and appreciated donations to the St. Francis Center, 101 Buckingham Ave, Redwood City, CA, 94063. Services have not yet been scheduled.
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle on 9/25/2005.

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