I remember one day early on in my SideWalk advocacy days when Jill Esbeck, the operations manager, asked me which volunteer I would like to see honored in a newsletter that was going out. SideWalk is the point of contact for adults experiencing homelessness as well as a volunteer driven advocacy service provider. Without even having to think, I said “Phyllis!” She was my hero. She was a tiny woman, and she was rather quiet. Nevertheless, she had presence, a strong, clear presence. After her funeral Mass two people at the luncheon table both said they wouldn’t generally come to a funeral for someone they had know so little, but they wouldn’t have missed it. She had touched both their lives with her genuine regard and hard work.
Phyllis was a team lead at SideWalk, which meant she was the go-to person with any questions other volunteers might have regarding a wide range of services and issues. Besides fielding a barrage of questions, she also greeted people as they walked in the door, with her always-present smile and friendly concerned listening. Her long time commitment to the St. Vincent de Paul Society organization at St. Michael’s Church downtown was an invaluable asset. As we would send a client to look for help with anything from clothing to monetary assistance she would invariably call after them, “Tell them Phyllis sent you!”.
After she had raised five children of her own, Phyllis got a Master’s Degree in Special Education and was an administrator as well as a teacher. She worked with alcohol and drug dependent youth as well as with children with special needs. A few times former students would come into SideWalk for services, and she greeted them like family. She knew some would have problems in later life, and she was happy to be able to help in any way she could.
Phyllis was born of pioneer women who moved to Washington before it achieved statehood. She certainly exemplified the strong qualities—caring for the most vulnerable, generosity of spirit, humble service, love of family and welcome for all. We closed our doors at SideWalk for the day of her funeral and the next day to honor her amongst ourselves. We were all blessed to have known and worked with her.