“Fear less, hope more. Eat less, chew more. Talk less, say more. Hate less, love more, and never underestimate the power of forgiveness.” — Abigail Van Buren, a.k.a. Dear Abby
Today Pauline Phillips, the woman who wrote the famous “Dear Abby” advice column under the pen name Abigail Van Buren, died today after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. She was 94. She helped millions of people with her plucky but blunt advice, and she will be missed.
According to CNN, the first “Dear Abby “column appeared in 1956, and Phillips continued writing the advice feature until 2000, when she and daughter Jeanne began sharing the byline. Jeanne Phillips took the column over full time in August 2002, when her family announced that Pauline had Alzheimer’s. Jeanne said in an official statement today:
“I have lost my mother, my mentor and my best friend. 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.”
Regardless of whether you are an aspiring advice columnist, there are a few lessons we can all learn from Phillips’ storied career. Take, for example, how she got her gig by walking in and saying, “I can do it better.”
In her 1981 book, The Best of Dear Abby, she said she approached the San Francisco Chronicle in 1956 about replacing the current advice columnist, who mostly focused on boring love advice. “They gave her a bunch of letters, thinking that, that they would never see her again, and she immediately took all of the letters to my dad’s nearby office and whipped out answers and had answers back the same day,” her son Eddie Phillips told Good Morning America in 2004. “That knocked them off their feet.”
“Dear Abby” went on to become the world’s most widely syndicated column, appearing in 1,400 newspapers with a daily readership of more than 110 million.
And unlike her sister Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer, who penned the Ann Landers advice column until her death in 2002, Abby was Abby all the time. Also unlike her sister, Abby was more blunt and straightforward in her advice.
“I was cocky,” she admitted in 1998. “My contemporaries would come to me for advice. I got that from my mother: the ability to listen and to help other people with their problems. I also got Daddy’s sense of humor.”
But she clearly enjoyed her monumentally successful career. In her book The Best of Abby, Phillips commented that her years writing the column “have been fulfilling, exciting and incredibly rewarding. … My readers have told me that they’ve learned from me. But it’s the other way around. I’ve learned from them. Has it been a lot of work? Not really. It’s only work if you’d rather be doing something else.”
She was an advice guru but also a great career role model, especially when you consider how she started her column in the ’50s. “I don’t pretend to be an authority on journalism or on human relations,” Phillips once said as her career began. “I just happen to be a very happy, a very healthy, a very lucky young woman with a fascinating hobby.”
Do you read “Dear Abby”? What lessons did you learn from her? Tell us in the comments.
Photo courtesy of Today