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Founder of Dear Abby dies at age 94

Published 3:33pm Friday, January 18, 2013

As a female columnist, I would be remiss not to address the passing of 94-year-old Dear Abby columnist Pauline Phillips yesterday.

Phillips was the founder of the Dear Abby advice column and wrote it for half a century. She died in Minneapolis, Minn. after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Phillips wrote about marriage, kids, jobs and life under the pen name Abigail Van Buren from 1956-2000, when her daughter Jeanne began sharing the byline. Jeanne Phillips became full time in 2002.

According to “Phillips, who was born July 4, 1918, in Sioux City, Iowa, ventured into journalism in 1955 at age 37. She called the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and told him she could write a better advice column than what the paper had. Phillips was surprised when the editor agreed to interview her. She described herself as an average, middle-aged housewife who had been happily married to the same man for 17 years and had reared two ‘reasonably normal’ teenagers. She had never written professionally, though she studied journalism in college.

“But she asserted she could write an advice column because all of her life she had been an amateur ‘wailing wall without portfolio.’ Editor Stanleigh Arnold wanted only to get this self-styled journalist out of his office, so he asked her to write sample replies to some previously published columns. She did, and the rest, as they say, is history,” the syndicate said.

The first Dear Abby column appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 9, 1956, the same year it was first syndicated.

What a trailblazer and role model for us who have followed. I am glad to not dole out too much personal advice here – that is a lot of pressure.

We all need that tough love at times. Someone to tell it like it is. Much of the columnists’ success probably came from not being socially invested in those who wrote to her. I can only imagine if I responded to open letters here. I would get slapped upside the head at the Winn Dixie!

The issues that women faced in the 1950’s are not unlike the issues we face today. If anything, the delicate balance between work and home is even more difficult.

Women have to finish their Excel sheets, make it to softball practice, cook dinner and be sure homework gets done – and in the middle of all that, they are trying to get to the gym and keep their girlish figures.

Dear Abby provided an outlet for women.

It is so reassuring when I read an article or a blog about some issue or another person’s struggle and think ‘ME TOO!’

Writing, whether in print or online, connects women. It offers us a sense of community.

Sharing our triumphs and struggles makes us all better people and reminds us that we are not alone. I cannot tell you how much inspiration I pull from articles and execute in real life. It may be a recipe, an outfit, or even a reaction to a situation. The information is invaluable.

All that being said, rest in peace Pauline. And thank you.

Howell works as an advertising representative for Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc., in addition to writing this column. Contact Howell at to keep her In the Loop of events.