Phyliss J. McCarthy
During my childhood, Phyliss (to me, always Grammie) often recounted the most memorable parts of her life growing up in New England: the joy she felt while cutting up magazines to make scrapbooks with her best friend, the calm she felt paddling down the river on her small skiff and letting the current rock her into a trance, and the pain she felt after moving away from her childhood home.
Years later, struggling with the realization that bits of her story were beginning to fade from my memory, I found a biographic speech Grammie wrote for her International Toastmistress group in Orlando, Florida. I hope it helps bring to life and memory the beauty of Phyliss McCarthy's way of looking at the world.
“At this moment, I feel the same way I did before the birth of my first child -- scared to death & yet knowing that my fear, once it passed, would reap great rewards. And rewards are a very important part of life, you know. I’m sure, for instance, that my father felt rewarded when he delivered a 10-lb baby girl one hot, August evening several years ago. I’m sure when he 1st looked at me his heart swelled with pride. This great event in my parents’ life took place in Scranton, PA.
That was home for 1 year. Then for the next twelve years, “home” was Windsor, NY. When I was 7, a baby sister was born. When I was 12, I finally got a baby brother. We had a home on the Susquehanna River -- a really delightful place to grow up. “Home” was several miles from town & “town” was all of 1 mile square. The kids for miles around attended Windsor Central School -- from 1st grade to 12th. Coming from such a boom town, you can understand my lack of sophistication when we settled in the big city of Orlando. I was a real “hick.” Consequently, I retreated into my own little shell, read books, made a few friends, and studied hard. Not very much different or exciting happened until I was 15 -- my home ec teacher like me and knew I wanted to become a nurse. She also knew my family would need help financially if I were ever to go thru nurses training. She heard about an office down town that needed a part-time girl. She called -- made an appointment for me, and as I entered the door to the Collections Bureau of Orlando, I felt a little of the same anxiety I feel tonight. I got the job.
Many things happened in the next 3 years. I worked, studied, met a young sailor & became a too-young, too-soon bride. Along with the wedding band came responsibilities -- no longer was I saving for nurses training -- now I was a wife and help mate & by the time another year had passed I was a mother. I quite working and settled down to being “just a housewife.” During the next few years I accomplished one important feat -- keeping my sanity! By then a new baby girl was added to the family.
When my son entered 1st grade & my daughter was 4 & 1/2, our budget told me I’d have to work again. I applied at J.C. Penney’s credit department -- got the job & worked there for four whole months. My boss told me I was a good worker but my “heart” was at home. I just couldn’t leave my children. My boss made a comment before I left, “Too bad you can’t stay home and baby sit, Phyl.”
From that vague suggestion came “Fun Phyl’d Day Nursury.” For two years, I did stay home & operated the nursery. Then the stork made an untimely appearance & another beautiful baby was mine. When she was 4 years old I went knocking once more on the doors of the Collection Bureau. Faces, names, & surroundings had changed -- but I needed a job, and this was all I knew how to do. I got the job.
Two years and many tears later, my 16 year old marriage ended in the judge’s chambers. Now the facts are plain to every woman who faces this situation -- I still had 3 children to care for -- my life was not over! So I worked to keep my family together. I met another man -- not a sailor this time but a man who was to become a very important part of my life. We had many things in common -- the most significant at that time, I suppose, was a divorce!
Two years later we were married. All of our children attended our wedding, & we combined our love and faith, determined to build an enduring life together. I continued to work at the Collections bureau (by now I was manager). My husband, Joe, works as a manufacturing agent for air conditioning equipment.
My son Steve and oldest daughter Steffi have their own homes now -- we still have Patti - age 11 & Joe’s boys -- Timmy age 11 & Tommy age 9 home with us. We have joined a church & know that our close relationship with God will strengthen our marriage & equip our children to meet the challenges and temptations away from home. I guess we have a life style similar to many -- we have a dog, Rusty & a rabbit, Jigs. We work, keep up our home, go to church, read, watch TV, go out to dinner and a movie occasionally, visit my folks, & most of all & best of all we take turns rocking our brand new, beautiful grandson -- and when I’m allowed another 5 or 6 minutes to talk, I’ll tell you all about him!”
A joyful spirit
Phyliss with her grandparents (left, 1935, my great-great-grandparents) and mother and younger sister (right, August 26th, 1942)
Phyliss as a young woman
Phyliss in 1977 at home
(left) & at work (right)
Phyliss and Joe McCarthy
(below, 1977 & 2009)
& their children (above, 1985, from left to right: Timmy, Joe, Patti, Phyliss, Steffi, Steve, & Tommy)
Grammie knew how to go from gloom to bloom, occasionally with delicious, chocolate-y reinforcements.
Many latenight drafts and rereads of Grammie's writing (above) before this eulogy felt presentable
Phyliss and Jessica on one of many library trips.
written by Jessica on April 11th, 2019
& delivered at Grammie's memorial on April 12th, 2019
Many of us here today may remember hearing Grammie reflect on her experience writing and giving speeches for the Toastmistress’ group. Whether it was reciting a favorite verse from scripture or poetry, shouting a correct Jeopardy question, filling in a crossword puzzle, giving advice, or bantering with Grampa, Grammie’s love of wordplay has touched us all, likely in more ways than we can know.
One of my earliest memories is of Grammie reading to me, sharing her love of language and stories, and communicating the values she holds dearest: faith, adaptability, and courage.
When Grampa first brought home a Toastmistress brochure for Grammie, because he thought she might be interested, she read it and wondered how many people actually put to use the lifestyle-improving guidelines the organization recommends. Even before joining, Grammie recognized that courage-driven action was required to make changes within herself.
Despite being a gifted writer, Grammie found that the public speaking aspect of the Toastmistress process put her far out of her comfort zone. Those who witnessed her nervous practice runs asked why she tortured herself so -- why was it so important? In a perfectly true-to-form response, she said, “We’ll be assured of having more ideas and thoughts to exchange with others than we ever dreamed possible.”
As she deepened her attention to self-awareness, Grammie identified complex battles within herself. Instead of letting them eat away at her spirit, Grammie saw her inner conflicts as further fuel for growth. Addressing the areas within herself that she felt needed development was a path to a happier state of mind. Grammie recognized the Toastmistress group as one that, in her words, “had the possibilities of lifting me out of the gloom of everyday thinking and into the bloom of a whole new world.”
In the vulnerable opening to her first award-winning speech, Grammie wrote, “At this moment, I feel the same way I did before the birth of my first child -- scared to death and yet knowing that my fear, once it passed, would reap great rewards.”
One word Grammie ironically didn’t like is the word “nice.” She even designed a Toastmistress activity around it and told her audience, “I believe it would be a real challenge to this group, desirous of self-improvement in speech, to tickle their brains a little to try to come up with a descriptive adjective to use in place of “nice.”
To honor Grammie’s love of precise, thoughtful word choice, I invite everyone to take a few moments now, or when you feel ready, to reflect on one word you’d use to describe Phyliss McCarthy.
I’d like to close with a prayer Grammie wrote around this time of year.
“We are grateful, Father, for the privilege of being able to meet here as a group dedicated to helping each other. we pray for your mercy and your forgiveness where we have fallen short of your will for us. We ask for your divine guidance in all that we do. Grant, Father, that in this Easter season we may find a new patience, a new tolerance, and a new love for each other. We ask that you bless this time we spend together and be with us as we travel home. In Jesus’s name, AMEN.”
Phyliss J. McCarthy instilled in me and many others a passion for reading and writing. Grammie loved words almost as much as she loved her family. After she passed away, I found a library receipt she'd kept from the first time we went to the library together. That she'd kept this memento touched me deeply. I've created the Phyliss J. McCarthy Scholarship for Excellence in Writing to honor her and her lifelong passions: reading, writing, and helping others.
Thank you for honoring Phyliss's love for the written word.
~ Jessica Robinson
Phyliss's granddaughter and creator of learncurious.com