Joe McQuaid's Publisher's Notebook: The gift of Phyllis

My Aunt Phyllis is an extraordinary woman. She lives near St. Paul in her home state of Minnesota. She has been a school board member, the mayor, and a state senator (until one of a powerful political family named Mondale decided to run).

She and my namesake uncle, Joe, had eight children. For years, Joe was night copy desk chief for the Minneapolis paper while Phyllis ran the household. My cousins became lawyers and doctors and therapists and teachers and, I think, at least one Indian chief.

Seven of them were on hand for her 90th birthday last week. (The eighth couldn’t make it back from the Mideast.)

Phyllis is from a small town up near Fargo. Her family had been farmers. Her dad came home from the first world war and had a rural postal route. She remembers him pointing out an ominous dark-green cloud on the horizon and predicting a hailstorm. It wiped out entire fields of crops.

Phyllis’ family lost relatives to train accidents and falls from grain elevators and post-war service in Africa.

She was graduated first in her high school class and followed a girl friend to Manchester where she landed a job at the Union Leader and met my uncle, who was a reporter here.

Three kids later, they went to the Twin Cities and had more kids. Her father, fishing one day with my uncle, told him, “You know, Joe, there are other things you can do.”

All three boys had paper routes, as did some of their sisters. Phyllis noticed that one son was leaving at different times each day to get his paper bundle. (He was trying to avoid a bully at the paper shack.)

One morning, as my cousin squared off with the bully inside the shack, in marched Aunt Phyllis, still in curlers, and... Well, let’s just say my cousin was not bothered thereafter.

Phyllis still lives independently and still drives, although she stays off the freeways. She attends one of two Catholic churches each week, depending on time and traffic. She says she can’t decide at which church she should have her funeral.

She told her family at a birthday dinner that she really doesn’t understand why God has blessed her so. My own question is why He has blessed so many of us with the gift of Phyllis.

Write to Joe McQuaid at or on Twitter at @deucecrew.