Phyllis Bigpond left us on Saturday, Sept. 26, after a two-year valiant battle with brain cancer. I tried to capture what we knew of Phyllis the professional in another article.
Here, I want to remember the friend, who no matter how busy in furthering her personal mission that all children would grow up in healthy and happy families through her work, would always have time for a phone call, to get together for a meal.
I first met Phyllis in 2002 when she hired JVA Consulting to help Denver Indian Family Resource Center’s board and staff develop a sustainability plan. Ronnie Weiss and I worked on the plan together with the DIFRC team and had a wonderful moment at the end of the year when Phyllis sent out a spreadsheet with all the goals we had set, and they had all been met or exceeded. It was then I understood the steely determination that lay under her quiet demeanor.
Everytime one project was completed, it seemed that there was another. We helped her with grant proposals, strategic planning, and evaluation of the Center’s work with families, and particularly with fathers. In 2007, DIFRC and JVA partnered to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the needs of urban Indian children and families in metro Denver, consistent with Phyllis’ emphasis that work be driven by data, not just intuition or feeling about what one believed was the right thing to do.
At the open house that DIFRC had for Phyllis on Monday, our mutual friend Terry Lohman said: She always gave so much more than she took. It reminded me of frequently fighting over lunch checks with Phyllis, who would always claim: “I think it’s my turn.” Our front office has the awards she gave us and our training/ facilitation room, the beautiful dream catcher she gave me at JVA’s 20th anniversary celebration. I kept telling her “Phyllis, you’re the client—we are supposed to be giving you presents!” And she would just smile.
To the end, the children and families she cared so deeply about were in the forefront of her thoughts. I visited her last month in Yakima, Washington. “It’s a strange time,” she reflected. I nodded. Then, she looked at me very seriously: “We need to serve the families.”
I will miss her so much. She gave us all hope, and inspiration. She listened to our stories, shared hers, and shared this wisdom: Out of everything bad comes something good. And I’m keeping that thought close.