Retired AFRO Librarian Laura Mackay Phillips, whose rich knowledge of Baltimore and its residents proved invaluable to the development of the newspaper’s library, passed away Aug. 25 at Seasons Hospice in Sinai Hospital.
She died after a brief illness, her daughter Sheila at her side. She was 92.
In 1966, she was asked to come temporarily and straighten out files that were used extensively by editorial staff in researching and writing articles. Her uncanny ability to take a few facts and then produce historical records from the files was legendary. Over the course of 18 years, Mrs. Phillips had chronicled, cross-referenced, and organized thousands of documents, microfiche, and newspaper bound volumes that today are known as the AFRO Archives.
AFRO Archivist John B. Gartrell commenting on her passing noted, “A great deal of care was given preserving these records and if it had not been for people like Mrs. Phillips, we would not have a true sense of how extensive the AFRO history really is.”
One of ten children born to Mabel Henson Mackay and Otho Mackay in Baltimore, she graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in 1938 and began her lifelong love of reading and poetry.-
Married to AFRO photographer I. Henry Phillips for 53 years when he passed in 1993, her greatest joy was caring for and watching her grandchildren and children of family members and friends. She was often heard saying, “I would rather watch ten children than be in the company of one boring adult.”
Mrs. Phillips was baptized and confirmed at St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church. She was proud of the fact that she joined the Blessed Mother Sodality at the age of 18 under the sponsorship of her sister-in-law Mrs. Mary Butler Mackay.
The Phillips’ started attending St. Edward’s in 1952 and were faithful members. Laura was a member of the Blessed Mother’s Sodality, Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver, Court 62 and the SEALS (Saint Edward’s Adoring Loving Seniors).
She was a duckpin bowler and a member of the 450 Family League and the Tuesday Lafayette Avenue Bowling League. Laura and her husband Henry formed a band of friendship with their neighbors, especially with Moses and Lucille Newson. The two had a special bond of raising their children, attending social affairs, working their vegetable gardens and shopping. The circle included Mrs. Delores Brown in later years. Favorite sayings included…”Let your conscience be your guide” and “If you are what you own and you lose it, then what are you”.
She is survived by two daughters, Laura Phillips Byrd (Eugene, Jr.) and Sheila Phillips Major; two sons, Irving H. Phillips, Jr. (Clarice) and Martin Mackay Phillips (Pamela). Seven grandchildren, Christopher L. Byrd, Cimmon Byrd Burris (Tylanvis), I. H. Webster Phillips, III, Kristin Jackson, Jamie Phillips, Morgan Phillips and Rebecca Phillips, two great-grandchildren, Terrance and Tyler Burris. In May, 2012, her middle son Frank W. Phillips, III predeceased her.
A wake is to be held Sept. 5 at 10:00 am at St Edward’s Roman Catholic Church, 901 Poplar Grove Street, with the service following at 11:00 am.
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