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Abigail Van Buren: Dear Abby advice columnist dies at 94
Question of the Day
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Pauline Friedman Phillips, who under the name of Abigail Van Buren wrote the long-running Dear Abby advice column that millions of newspaper readers throughout the world followed, has died. She was 94.
Mrs. Phillips‘ column competed for decades with the advice column of Ann Landers, written by her twin sister, Esther Friedman Lederer. Their relationship was stormy in their early adult years, but later they regained the close relationship they had had growing up in Sioux City, Iowa.
The two columns differed in style: Ann Landers responded to questioners with homey, detailed advice. Abby’s replies were often flippant one-liners.
Mrs. Phillips admitted that her advice changed over the years. When she started writing the column, she was reluctant to advocate divorce.
“I always thought that marriage should be forever,” she explained. “I found out through my readers that sometimes the best thing they can do is part. If a man or woman is a constant cheater, the situation can be intolerable. Especially if they have children. When kids see parents fighting, or even sniping at each other, I think it is terribly damaging.”
She willingly expressed views that she realized would bring protests. In a 1998 interview she remarked: “Whenever I say a kind word about gays, I hear from people, and some of them are damn mad. People throw Leviticus, Deuteronomy and other parts of the Bible to me. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve always been compassionate toward gay people.”
If the letters sounded suicidal, she took a personal approach: “I’ll call them. I say: ‘This is Abby. How are you feeling? You sounded awfully low.’ And they say, ‘You’re calling me?’ After they start talking, you can suggest that they get professional help.”
Asked about Viagra, she replied: “It’s wonderful. Men who can’t perform feel less than manly, and Viagra takes them right off the spot.”
About working mothers: “I think it’s good to have a woman work if she wants to and doesn’t leave her children unattended — if she has a reliable person to care for them. Kids still need someone to watch them until they are mature enough to make responsible decisions.”
One trend Mrs. Phillips adamantly opposed: children having sex as early as 12 years old.
“Kids grow up awfully fast these days,” she said. “You should try to have a good relationship with your kids, no matter what they do.”
The woman known to the world as Ann Landers died in June 2002. Later that year, the family revealed that Mrs. Phillips had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. By then, Mrs. Phillips‘ daughter, Jeanne Phillips, who had helped her mother with the Dear Abby column for years, was its sole author.
Pauline Esther Friedman, known as “Popo,” was born on Independence Day 1918 in Sioux City, Iowa, 17 minutes after her identical twin, Esther Pauline (“Eppie”). Their father was a well-off owner of a movie theater chain. Their mother took care of the home. Both were immigrants from Russia who had fled their native land in 1905 because of the persecution of Jews.
“My parents came with nothing. They all came with nothing,” Mrs. Phillips said in a 1986 Associated Press interview. She recalled that her parents always remembered seeing the Statue of Liberty: “It’s amazing the impact the lady of the harbor had on them. They always held her dear, all their lives.”
By Michael P. Orsi
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