Eagle-Tribune page designer John O’Neil was having dinner with his wife Nancy at the Andover Inn one night in June 1990. It happened to be the same night that Pauline Friedman Phillips, better known as Abigail Van Buren or Dear Abby, was dining there with then Eagle-Tribune owners Irving and Chip Rogers, as well as former Editor Dan Warner and their wives.
O’Neil went up to the table to pay his respects — and to joke with Warner that he told the Inn to put the meal on his tab — when he met Phillips, who was scheduled to speak the following day at the newspaper’s Centennial Celebration.
“I had no idea who she was,” O’Neil said. “She was a classy looking woman. Very nice — almost regal.”
Yesterday he, and others who remember her visit to the Merrimack Valley, recalled her with fondness as news of her passing was released.
The 94-year-old died Wednesday in Minneapolis after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, said Gene Willis, a publicist for the Universal Uclick syndicate.
“My mother leaves very big high heels to fill with a legacy of compassion, commitment and positive social change,” her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, who’s been writing the column since 2002, said in a statement.
Private funeral services were held yesterday.
Phillips’ appearance in the Merrimack Valley was the idea of longtime Eagle-Tribune Editor Dan Warner.
“Every newspaper has to have either Abby or Ann (Landers), and we had Abby,” said Warner, from his home in Florida. “They are popular, timeless, indispensable. They have a huge following — we needed a name, why not that one?”
Warner wrote a letter — either to Phillips or her syndicate — inviting her to the private celebration that attracted 500 people.
“It was a very formal letter,” Warner remembers. “About a week later, I got a phone call from her, which was frankly surprising. She was glad to come and wouldn’t take money. She liked being out, with her fans.”