Pauline Friedman Phillips, who as advice columnist Dear Abby often advocated for acceptance of LGBT people, has died at age 94, the Associated Press reports.
Phillips, who had Alzheimer’s disease, died Wednesday in Minneapolis, and private funeral services were held today, her publicist said.
One of her most oft-quoted takes on gay issues came in a 1979 column, in which Dear Abby delivered a famously pithy response to a letter writer complaining about two men, apparently a gay couple, who had moved into the correspondent’s neighborhood. “They have all sorts of strange company,” the letter writer commented. Men who look like women, women who look like men, blacks, whites, Indians. Yesterday I even saw too nuns go in there! … How can we improve the quality of this once-respectable neighborhood?” Abby’s reply: “You could move.”
In a 1998 interview, Phillips noted that she took some criticism for her LGBT-friendliness. “Whenever I say a kind word about gays, I hear from people, and some of them are damn mad,” she said. “People throw Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and other parts of the Bible to me. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve always been compassionate toward gay people.” She frequently referred parents of LGBT children to Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
She began writing the Dear Abby column in 1956; it first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, and it eventually became nationally syndicated. She began sharing the writing with daughter Jeanne Phillips in 2000, and Jeanne took over the column in 2002, after her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Pauline Phillips had competition in the advice business for many years from her twin sister, Esther Friedman Lederer, who wrote a syndicated column under the name Ann Landers. “Their relationship was stormy in their early adult years, but they later regained the closeness they had growing up in Sioux City, Iowa,” the AP notes. Lederer died in 2002.
Jeanne Phillips issued a statement praising her mother’s outspokenness on behalf a variety of causes. “My mother leaves very big high heels to fill with a legacy of compassion, commitment, and positive social change,” she said. She has continued her mother’s advocacy; among other things, in 2007 Jeanne announced her support for marriage equality. She was subsequently honored by PFLAG.