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Phyllis Griffith

December 05, 2009|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Phyllis Griffith, who died Nov. 23 at the age of 81. Her obituary was published in The Herald-Mail on Nov. 25.

Contemplating his late mother's many talents, Doug Griffith said he will always feel close to her when he recalls how she made each of her three children feel very special.

"We three kids were so very different from each other, but we each felt like her favorite," Doug said.

Phyllis Griffith was able to expand that quality to encompass many of the students she taught over the years in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Hagerstown, where she completed her teaching duties in 1993 at Fountaindale Elementary School.

"A year after she retired, I asked her what she missed most," said Jack Griffith, her husband of 58 years. "She said her friends and her babies, meaning her students."

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Just back from wartime duty in the South Pacific, Jack returned to his native Pennsylvania and enrolled at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa.

"Both speech majors, Phyllis and I met there," Jack said. "I saw this little trick, and I liked her a lot."

Standing a shade above 6 feet, Jack didn't let the fact that Phyllis was a mere 5 feet tall slow him down when he asked her to a fraternity dance.

"We practiced in the choir loft and had a good time," Jack said. "She was a real pepperpot."

They also had singing in common, though Jack was a tenor and Phyllis had a low, alto voice.

Because of his Army service, Jack was a little behind Phyllis in their quests for college degrees. When they married in 1951, Jack still had two years of college left.

"We lived on campus, bought used furniture and had a lot of fun," Jack said. Phyllis was teaching off and on then as Jack completed his degree.

Richard was born first, in 1953 in Pennsylvania. At that time, Jack was working in Ohio as an office furniture salesman.

Jack later held positions in business advertising, technical writing and other high-level sales jobs that moved the Griffiths around.

Over the years, the family grew to include Doug, who was born in 1955, also in Pennsylvania. In those early days in Latrobe, Pa., the Griffith boys walked to school and came home for lunch.

Daughter Lori, now Lori Monnett, was born in 1966, shortly after Jack moved the family to Hagerstown when he began a long business association with Pangborn Corp.

That same year, the Griffiths moved into a home in Spring Valley. It is still the family homeplace in Washington County.

"With Lori, Phyllis finally got her baby doll she could dress up," Jack said. That included a wardrobe of Polly Flinders' dresses that Lori said didn't exactly complement her tomboy temperament.

"I was always trying to keep up with the boys," Lori said. They taught her how to play baseball and, as her father said, she was better at many sports than the boys in the neighborhood.

Still Lori said she bristled when she had to go to bed early and her brothers could stay up later.

Looking back, Richard said his mother had a wonderful gift for hospitality. "There were a lot of recipes in her head ... none of them written down, unfortunately."

Sitting around the family dining room with two of his children, Jack said he was flooded with memories of life with Phyllis.

"I was on the road a lot when the children were little," Jack said. But even with her teaching and child-rearing duties, Phyllis still found the time to contribute to her community, especially where children were involved.

"Phyllis taught black history before its time," Jack said. "And she also taught the children Jewish traditions."

Innovative, Phyllis outfitted her classrooms with state-of-the-art equipment, thanks to a husband who was comfortable in the world of technology.

"Her room had learning stations with headphones and she also used overhead projectors for teaching," Jack said. There was also a piano, a rocking chair and a homey rug for the children.

Richard said he believes his mother was doing exactly as she should have been with her particular gifts.

Doug remarked that her talents were passed down to her children and now to the grandchildren, who are sharing their special qualities with people less fortunate.

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