Go to contents

Farewell, Dear Abby columnist

Posted January. 21, 2013 03:14,   


Pauline Phillips, the writer of the longtime "Dear Abby" advice column, died Wednesday at age 95. Netizens posted her inspiring words of advice and remembered her. One man asked, “I’ve seen this girl for a year, and I’d like to hear `Yes.` How can I get her say yes?” Abby answered, “What would you like to ask?” On another occasion, another fan said he wanted to know his family roots but could not afford it. The columnist`s answer was simple: “Run for office!” A woman had a daughter-in-law who gave birth to a son after six months of marriage and insisted that the baby was born premature. But the infant weighed 3.9 kilograms at birth. The lady asked, “Can a premature baby can weigh 3.9 kilograms?” Abby answered, “The baby came out at the right time. Just the marriage was late.”

Phillips was the twin sister of another famous advice columnist, Esther Lederer, who was born 17 minutes earlier, and both lived similar lives. They attended the same college, were co-writers of a gossip column for their university newspaper, and got married the same day. Lederer began her column first. As the writer of “Ask Ann Landers” of the Chicago Sun-Times, she began writing for the column in 1955 and Phillips assisted her. In the meantime, Phillips opted to write her own column and applied for a job at the San Francisco Chronicle, a move that strained ties with her twin sister. When Phillips first visited the office for an interview, she wrote answers to 70 letters for two hours. After arriving home, she received a call from the daily to report for work from Jan. 9, 1956.

The nickname “Abby” came from the Biblical prophet Abigail. Dear Abby has been printed in 1,400 newspapers and read by 110 million readers across the globe. Phillips received 3,000 to 25,000 letters and email messages per week. In her busiest period, she had to hire four people to open the envelopes and six to write replies. She also had a few bad days in her 40-year career. She once confessed that she reused old columns. Phillips also made her peace with her twin sister Lederer, a long-time rival, before the latter died in 2002. They had not spoken to each other for five years.

When Phillips was asked what her secret for success was, she said, “I don’t have any special wisdom. I answer with common sense.” She said she learned how to listen while working as a volunteer caregiver at a hospital after marriage. “When people tell you their problems, the best thing to do for them is listen,” she said. "Dear Abby" and "Ask Ann Landers," the columns left behind by the twin sisters, are now run by their daughters.

Assistant Culture Editor Lee Jin-yeong (ecolee@donga.com)