Pianist, volunteer, homemaker. Born on June 25, 1919, in Montreal; died on May 19, 2016, in Vancouver, of natural causes, aged 96.
We are perched on the stairs, looking through the banisters, as guests arrive for our parents' annual wedding anniversary party. The house smells of saffron, fennel and lobster, from the best bouillabaisse ever, and mango mousse. The conversation is smart, fast-moving, intellectual, political, with lots of laughter. Mum has gathered all these wonderful people. She is the energy and the inspiration behind it all.
Phyllis died a few weeks short of her 97th birthday, surrounded by two generations of loving family. She had been widowed in 2014, after a marriage of 72 years to Frank Margolick. Less than a week before her death, she had been walking unassisted, playing the piano, speeding through the New York Times crosswords and following politics and tennis intensely.
Born in Montreal, the youngest of three sisters, she spent three years in London with her family, returning to Montreal in 1940 to work as a magazine columnist and a pianist for travelling troupe shows for Canadian soldiers. She quickly became a sought-after dance accompanist, which continued with professional dance studios and visiting dance companies wherever she lived, from Montreal to Rochester, N.Y., Knoxville, Tenn., Baltimore, Md., and Vancouver, where she still played for Ballet BC and the Arts Umbrella centre in her 90s.
Her improvisational and musical skills made her unique, as she apparently effortlessly transposed orchestral music, adapted folk, jazz and ragtime to the needs of the moment, and knew dance from the inside out. She was also a discerning and avid concert-goer: her massive collection of playbills and programs beginning in the 1930s and continuing to this year is a rich archive of music, dance and drama.
In 1942, she met and married Frank, an electrical engineer, and had four children. She kept file drawers for each of us, documenting everything from elementary school reports and letters home to doctoral theses, newspaper clippings and film productions. She revelled in the deep connections she had with her six grandchildren. Fiercely loyal, demanding, unswervingly supportive, she was a pivotal force in all our lives.
Phyllis was a lifelong volunteer, often in positions that took advantage of her superb organizational skills, administering the Accident Clinic at the Royal Victoria Hospital for more than a decade, working for Readings for the Blind, providing editing and typing for political, union and advocacy organizations. One rewarding year was spent arranging cultural programs for the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville. She and Frank were also adventurous world travellers, booking their flight itineraries but improvising along the way, bringing back stories and photos from Kenya, Brazil, Bali, Kashmir.
She taught us all by example not to be cowed by authority and she regularly challenged ideas and actions she deemed destructive, immoral or inappropriate. Family dinner discussions emphasized curiosity, skepticism, engagement in the world. In writing, in person, in collective action and in personal acts of protest, she expressed and did what she believed was right. Her enthusiasms were known to all – a good piece of fried chicken, a beautiful face, her own great dill pickles, a violin concerto, a visit from a grandchild. Her presence filled the room. She is sorely missed.
Sally Winston, Judith Marcuse, Betsy Carson and Michael Margolick are Phyllis's children.