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Life Lessons of ‘Dear Abby’ Outlive Pauline Phillips’ Death

Dear Teen-Ager
Dear Teen-Ager (Photo credit: Larry He’s So Fine)

Her column has been around for more than 50 years, yet it remains known for its “youthful perspective.” Pauline Phillips, pen name Abigail Van Buren, started the most “widely syndicated column in the world” at the age of 37. Offering her “uncommon common sense” to over 95 million readers a day, Phillip’s column “Dear Abby” became—and stayed— a sensation.

Modern television shows continue to toss in references to Phillips’ famed writing, yet the chances of someone under the age of 28 ever catching one are slim. It’s impossible to even imagine a 13-year-old snickering at a “Dear Abby” joke, yet Cartoon Network’s animated series Total Drama Island—a show made for young teenagers– found a chance to add one in.

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Jeanne Phillips took over the “Dear Abby” column in 2002 when her mother officially retired. Ten years later, the admired and trusted columnist passed away on January 16 at the age of 94, after many years of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

With her daughter keeping the advice of “Dear Abby” relevant to our generation, we should take a look at what we can learn from the late Abigail Van Buren.

1. Gays and Lesbians deserve equal rights

According to the SFGate, Pauline Phillips had been publicly speaking up for gays and lesbians since the early 1980’s.

In a statement from 1981, Phillips openly expresses her support:

“God made gays just as surely as he made straights and all his children are entitled to love and (to) be loved in dignity,” she reportedly said on the 30-second tape. “Remember, we are all family.”

2. Divorce is an understandable option

According to The Daily Mail, Phillips admitted that her advice about marriage changed over the years. At the start of her column, she was reluctant to suggest divorce, believing “that marriage should be forever.”

“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.”

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3. Working mothers deserve to feel accomplished

Phillips’ quote below from The Washington Times is so simple but profound, especially for her time:

“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.”

4. There might be such a thing as a dumb question
(The New York Times)

Dear Abby: Our son married a girl when he was in the service. They were married in February and she had an 8 1/2-pound baby girl in August. She said the baby was premature. Can an 8 1/2-pound baby be this premature? — Wanting to Know

Dear Wanting: The baby was on time. The wedding was late. Forget it.

5. Be on the right side of history

The Star Tribune quoted Phillips’ grandson, Dean Phillips, 43, saying:

“She was really a mother to the entire country, and for years provided counsel and comfort to millions,” he said. “I think her great legacy will be the causes she championed, well before most had the courage to do so. That includes include civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and mental health issues. She wrote about them in an era when people didn’t talk about those things.”

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