On Wednesday, Pauline Phillips, better known to the world as Dear Abby, passed away at the age of 94. For decades, Abby, along with her twin sister Ann Landers, was one of America’s best-loved advice columnists. Like Digby, I was a Dear Abby reader from a very young age. I enjoyed her down-to-earth wit and I learned many valuable lessons from her about tolerance, compassion, and decency.
Though she didn’t address politics in her column, Abby, a Jewish Midwesterner, was a liberal Democrat, and I think that rubbed off on me as well. I got my liberal ideas from somewhere, and they definitely didn’t come from my conservative parents!
Abby helped to break new ground in writing about issues that were rarely discussed openly in America at the time, subjects like drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. She also suggested counseling and psychotherapy when appropriate, long before Middle America began to widely embrace these practices.
Abby was also a pioneer when it came to gay rights. In their obituary, the gay website The Advocate pays tribute to Abby as gay-friendly. Perhaps the best example of this is her response to the following 1979 letter, which is quoted in the New York Times obit:
Dear Abby: Two men who claim to be father and adopted son just bought an old mansion across the street and fixed it up. We notice a very suspicious mixture of company coming and going at all hours — blacks, whites, Orientals, women who look like men and men who look like women. This has always been considered one of the finest sections of San Francisco, and these weirdos are giving it a bad name. How can we improve the neighborhood? — Nob Hill Residents
Dear Residents: You could move.
R.I.P. Abby. You will be missed.
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