Pauline Phillips, better known to millions of newspaper readers for decades as the Dear Abby advice columnist, has died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, her family said Thursday.
She died Wednesday in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at age 94.
Phillips’ columns were published in an era when newspaper readers began to prize straight-talking, pithy advice about marriages, children, jobs — just about anything that troubled people.
Phillips wrote under the pen name of Abigail Van Buren, shortened to “Dear Abby” in newspapers.
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 the family announced that Pauline Phillips had Alzheimer’s.
“I have lost my mother, my mentor and my best friend,” Jeanne Phillips said in a statement. “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.”
Phillips strove to say more with less. Her direct style was captured in her favorite Swedish toast, according to a family statement released by the column’s syndication service:
“Fear less; hope more. Eat less; chew more. Talk less; say more. Hate less; love more.”
Before the digital era of journalism introduced such notions as “crowd sourcing” of the public and computerized metrics on readership, Phillips assembled her Q&A columns from queries mailed in from readers. And she was able to quantify her following by the number of newspapers who bought her columns — and by how many readers spent money on a stamp to mail her a letter.
“Dear Abby” is the world’s most widely syndicated column, having appeared in 1,400 newspapers with a daily readership of more than 110 million, the syndication service Universal Uclick said.
In another example of her following, Phillips held a survey in 1987 asking readers to send a postcard or note — anonymously if they wanted — about whether they cheated on their mates.
Almost 250,000 people responded within three months.
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