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A toast to Dee, a friend for the ages

My dear long-time friend, Dolores J. (Dee) Phillips, was laid to rest Monday, May 8, in New Albany, after a long battle with cancer. She would have turned 64 the day before her funeral, when more than 1,000 friends dropped by Seabrook Dieckmann & Naville funeral home in New Albany to pay their respects.
‘She had the biggest birthday party I’ll bet that funeral home ever saw,’ said her husband, Barry, obviously well pleased that so many had come. ‘She always wanted a big party.’
Many, many of those persons were friends of Dee’s or one of her and Barry’s seven children during their Elizabeth ‘farm-era’ days. She ran a feeder pig operation, with lots of help from her teenage boys and probably any of their friends who happened by. If any of those boys got in the way, Dee took matters into her own hands.
‘I can’t tell you how many kids stopped by (the funeral home) to tell me how they’d been whacked by Dee,’ Barry said. ‘With a broom.’
It was a rite of spring. And kids weren’t the only ones who could be roped into helping. Ask my fastidious husband, Virgil.
Now Virgil, a city boy, is not easily cajoled, especially into farm duty, but Dee was the master. And her boys were in school, not available to help.
‘It was rainy and cold outside; I think it was in October,’ Virgil said. ‘She called me on the phone and said, ‘I’m in trouble; I need your help! First of all, I have a broken ankle, and I have a truck on the way to pick up some little pigs. It won’t be a hard job and there’s no heavy lifting. Can you help load?’
‘I thought, how hard could it be? So I dressed warm and headed over there, only to find that the truck driver’s job was to back the truck in. He did help sort them out once they were in the truck. My job was to get them in the truck!
‘Dee handed me a hot cup of coffee (in a sugar bowl) and instructed me in the fine art of pig herding. ‘Don’t try to pick ’em up,’ she warned. ‘The trick is, get behind them and walk them up the ramp. Like a wheelbarrow.’ I learned real quick that pigs can kick.
‘When I got back home, I undressed on the porch and threw my clothes away.’
I don’t know what his problem was. Dee always said those pigs smelled just like money. Later, when the money dropped out of pig production, she did too.
In the meantime, she decided to go to college. When I asked what course she was taking, she declared: ‘Whatever you are! Journalism? Good. I like to write, too.’
And so began that phase of our friendship, which lasted in spite of it.
There was the time we were studying history, a course we attended right after lunch at Indiana University Southeast. We would go in, sit down and within minutes, after I had started taking copious notes, Dee would roll her brown eyes and promptly nod off to sleep. Then, as the big test neared, she cajoled again, ‘I’m in trouble; I need your help!’ Of course I helped her cram, thinking I’d learn a lot that way, too. We both had kids in school, and they were watching. Closely. So we had to make only the best of grades.
When we got those history tests back, there she sat with an ‘A,’ and I, the teacher, a ‘B.’ I’m fairly certain she is still laughing.
When I went to work here, I missed the times we had spent together, so when we needed someone to fill in temporarily for a reporter on maternity leave, naturally, I called her.
Having had seven babies herself (after she moved to New Albany, she would have No. 8), she said she was all for maternity leave. She dove right in, and for a short time, the newsroom was livelier than ever.
I came to work one Wednesday morning when the newspaper was due out with a particularly disturbing story I had done about a man who had moved here to get away from a murder rap while awaiting retrial. He had been ordered released from prison due to a technicality.
The first thing I saw when I walked into the newsroom was a big red bullseye on my computer with the notation: ‘I’m Jackie.’ Everyone else’s computer said, ‘I’m not Jackie.’
Now who do you suppose was responsible for that?
That was the Dee Phillips I knew and loved. I hope you did, too.

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