Phyllis was one of the reasons I went to GDF. I looked at all the schools’ web pages and narrowed down the ones that sounded most like their programs would work for me. GDF was one of them, so I called their Consumer Services Office, and I wound up talking to Phyllis. Not only was she an excellent representative for the school, she was a graduate. She talked to me about what it was like to have a guide dog, and what it was like to have a guide dog from GDF. She was warm and genuine and honest.
I wound up at GDF, and she was even nicer in person. I nicknamed her GDF’s “den mother”, because she really was. She took everyone under her wing. She had a huge, gorgeous golden retriever named Fordham. Sometimes Phyllis came and ate with us in the dining room. She gave us the ADA lecture one night, and periodically called me at work in later months to discuss ADA questions and issues. When my father got sick, she always asked me how he was doing. She dealt with everyone’s questions and concerns efficiently and kindly, and that is not always so easy with a bunch of nervous students. 🙂
One day I was on the phone with her, and she told me she had cancer. Breast cancer had spread to her bones, liver, brain….it wasn’t good. You always hear about people who are “so positive” while they’re gravely ill; it’s a cliche, really. But she seriously was. She was realistic about what her odds were, and what treatment it was and was not reasonable to undergo. She didn’t complain, but was honest about having a hard time. And she continued to ask about how Dad was doing. She appreciated everyone’s thoughts and prayers. She went to Disney World because she’d always wanted to go. When I went back to GDF for a meeting, she was thin and bald, but still Phyllis. I hugged her and wished her the best.
I called her periodically to check on her, but one day I called and was told she was on “indefinite leave”. And I knew that was the beginning of the end. Then I got an e-mail from GDF that Phyllis had asked be sent to everyone on her behalf. She had stopped treatment and had gone home to die. I sent her a card thanking her for everything and telling her that she was a light in the world. A few weeks later, she was gone. She’d always asked about Dad’s cancer, but he outlived her by a year.
We were all devastated, even though we knew it was coming. A collection to sponsor a dog in Phyllis’ memory began immediately, and now there is a female black lab, Phil, who is a breeder. She produces tomorrow’s guide dogs. It’s a great tribute to Phyllis, but I’d rather have Phyllis back. I like the GDF staff, but we’ve got no den mother anymore.