Pauline Friedman Phillips, known by pen name Abigail Van Buren, dies in Minneapolist at age 94

3:41 PM, Jan 17, 2013   |    comments
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

(USA Today) - For more than half her life, she was known as advice maven Dear Abby, a persona she invented well over a half-century ago. Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips, who died Wednesday afternoon at age 94, was buried Thursday in a small family ceremony.

Phillips, who had Alzheimer's disease, died in Minneapolis, where she had lived since 2002, the year her daughter Jeanne Phillips became the column's sole writer, according to Gene Willis, a publicist for Universal Uclick, the independent syndicate for the column.

Abby started life as Pauline Esther Friedman, of Sioux City, Iowa, but was better known by her childhood nickname "Popo." It wasn't until she created Abby that the internationally syndicated columnist would become a household name, public speaker, radio broadcaster and author of five books.

Abby's career dishing out relationship counsel began shortly after her twin sister, Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer, called "Eppie," had gotten into the business of advising others in 1955. Her sister would also take a pen name - Ann Landers - when she took over writing the so-named existing newspaper advice column in Chicago.

The way Abby tells it in her 1981 book The Best of Dear Abby, she approached the San Francisco Chronicle about replacing the current advice columnist. In 1956, the suburban homemaker, volunteer and mother of two teens took the pseudonym Abigail Van Buren and never looked back.

She was Abby, say those who knew her best.

"She went by 'Abby' in her personal and professional life, unlike Ann Landers who was very much 'Eppie' in her personal life. Even Mort (Abby's husband) called her 'Abby,'" says Alan McDermott, her editor since 1980 and now an editor at the Kansas City, Mo.-based Universal Uclick, which distributes the column with a daily readership of more than 110 million.

Abby's daughter, Jeanne Phillips, has been writing the column solo under the Dear Abby name since 2002 and has co-authored the franchise since 1987.

In a statement, Jeanne Phillips said, "My mother leaves very big high heels to fill, with a legacy of compassion, commitment and positive social change. I will honor her memory every day by continuing this legacy."

In her 1981 book, Abby explains how she came up with her moniker:

"I took the 'Abigail' from the Old Testament, for Abigail was a prophetess in the Book of Samuel, I chose 'Van Buren' from our eighth president, Martin Van Buren, because I liked the aristocratic, old-family ring."

Helen Thomas, 92, a longtime journalist and close friend, said in a 2007 interview with USA TODAY that Abby had a "tremendous heart and tremendous compassion."

"People related to her and she understood them," Thomas said. "She always was upbeat and gave the best advice she could. She was never flippant with people's problems."

Thomas said she met Abby in 1975 when both appeared on a television talk show hosted by Dinah Shore. Thomas had written a book about the White House.

"She loaned me her limo to go to different places to promote the book," Thomas said. "I thought 'This has got to be a great woman.'"

Abby's columns addressed more than just problems of the lovelorn. She tackled prickly relationships, sex, illness, equal rights, AIDS awareness and hospice care, among other topics of the times.

McDermott says he and Abby used to have weekly conversations to go over the columns. He described her as "bright, charming, engaged and curious."

"She was a genuine person - the kind of persona she radiated in the column was who she was as a person," McDermott says.

The rival advice columns penned by the twins apparently caused some familial ill will. Despite the fact that the twins had a double wedding in 1939, many reports have said they feuded and later reconciled. Abby's sister died in June 2002.

Abby had often said her daughter helped her since the column began, offering a younger perspective to some of the questions. But it wasn't until December 2000 that Abby acknowledged Jeanne had been co-writing since 1987. From that point in 2000, the column appeared with a double byline and both photos. Two years later, the family announced that the then 84-year-old Abby had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. At that time, the longtime resident of Beverly Hills moved to Minneapolis, where her husband Mort had kept a residence because of business interests.

In 2003, Abby' family, along with an anonymous donor, contributed a total of $10 million to the Mayo Clinic for its Alzheimer's research. The facility was renamed the Abigail Van Buren Alzheimer's Disease Research Clinic.

Abby is survived by her husband of 73 years Mort Phillips of Minneapolis; daughter Jeanne Phillips and husband Walter Harris of Los Angeles; son Edward Phillips and wife Leslye Phillips of Minneapolis; four grandchildren and two great granddaughters.

"She had a great impact on our society," said Thomas. "She was sparkling, really."

By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY

Most Watched Videos