"Dear Abby: About two years ago I began to notice a change in my husband. He became increasingly forgetful and easily confused even though he was only 50…We saw several doctors before one finally seemed familiar with my husband's condition. He told us he had Alzheimer's disease, for which there is no cure...Have you ever heard of Alzheimer's disease? I feel so helpless. How do I help others cope with this affliction?—Desperate in N.Y."
—October 23, 1980, The Ford Scott Tribune
More than two decades after she was first asked to give advice on Alzheimer's, Pauline Phillips (aka. Abigail Van Buren), the enigmatic writer behind the famous "Dear Abby" advice column, has herself died of the memory-robbing illness, at age 94.
The world first became aware of Phillips' Alzheimer's diagnosis in 2002, when she announced her retirement, after serving 46 years as one of the most well-known personalities of the 20th century.
Throughout her career, Phillips often found herself competing with her twin sister Esther Friedman Lederer (aka. Ann Landers) for advice columnist supremacy. The two women rode the highs and lows of a tumultuous relationship until they reconciled as older adults.
A source of undying advice
Recognized and respected for the honest, blunt guidance she sprinkled on the lives of the lonely, the frustrated, and the bereft, Phillips leaves behind more than a few memorable one-liners including:
- "Fear less, hope more. Eat less, chew more. Talk less, say more. Hate less, love more, and never underestimate the power of forgiveness."
- "The best index to a person's character is how he treats people who can't do him any good."
- "The less you talk, the more you're listened to."
- "If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we'd all be millionaires."
The advisor and the advocate
Inspired by his mother's struggle, Phillip's son, Eddie, along with an anonymous donor, bestowed a $10 million grant on the Mayo Clinic to build the Abigail Van Buren Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, ABC News reports.
The hallowed persona of Abigail Van Buren lives on in Phillips' daughter, Jeanne, who officially donned the Dear Abby cloak after her mother's retirement. The newest Dear Abby continues to receive and respond to letters from people seeking succor and advice as they care for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease.
But, perhaps the most poignant counsel for these individuals was penned by Phillips herself in a simple, yet stirring reply to that original letter, all those years ago:
"Dear Desperate: You are not alone…"