Phyl Manning (1931-2014)
We will be hosting a modest Memorial Celebration in Phyl’s name on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the Kirshner Wildlife Foundation: 4995 Durham-Pentz Rd, Oroville, CA 95965. We’ll start at 3:00pm, and everyone is welcome to speak, read, sing, or otherwise join in. (If you have a picture or two to share, please send those to Kent ahead of time—we’ll have a video projector set up.) In lieu of any flowers, please consider a small donation to the Kirshner Wildlife Foundation, an effort that was dear to Phyl’s heart. In addition, a memorial near her home in New Hampshire will be announced soon, tentatively scheduled for May/June. Details will be posted here, or contact Doug directly.
Phyl was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1931. As a naturally-curly toddler, she once won a Shirley Temple lookalike contest. Her first public writing was a poem for a contest to win a dollar and a giant bag of potato chips. (She did.) She lost her Protestant minister father when she was young, and Phyl grew up a self-reliant depression-era kid raised by her single school-teacher mom. Summers were spent with her Aunt and Uncle on their small Sedalia, Missouri farm. Alongside her cousin Bill Moore, she explored the hills, woods, and Muddy River, igniting or fueling a life-long fascination with animals.
Skipping two-and-a-half grades, her first full-time job was as the teacher in a one-room school where she was younger than some students. Along with her gal-pals Sally and Pat, they married and started families. Later Phyl became the English and creative writing teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School in nearby Council Bluffs, Iowa, also serving as yearbook and prom advisor, and hosting an annual and semi-legendary squirt-gun graduation party for her students. She was one of the three high school English teachers selected to help develop (in Iowa City, summer of 1964) a framework for the then-new concept of Advanced Placement (AP) classes in English.
Phyl often said her life began at 32. Fortunately for my sister and me, that’s not literally true. But at 32, our family moved to Saipan, Mariana Islands, in the US Trust Territory of Micronesia. She and my dad were contracted to teach high school. It was the family’s first flight on a plane, 7,000 miles on a Boeing 707. Along with teaching, she worked with the University of Hawaii to help build a curriculum which—in cooperation with the University of Illinois—would ultimately become TESL, Teaching English as a Second Language. More personally, over the course of that two-year contract she discovered an underwater world, skin and scuba diving with her trusty Calypso camera. She also discovered that in terms of her husband, she had made a huge mistake.
At the end of that contract, temporarily back in the states, she grabbed her kids and left him. It was not an amicable split, and during the Great Airplane Strike of 1966, there was a lot of sleeping in airports on our secret way to Honolulu, Hawaii. At the university there she picked up a key certification to take a new contract at the Micronesian Teachers’ Education College, in Ponape. That’s in the Caroline Islands, currently part of the Federated States on Micronesia, for the Atlas curious.
Eventually my dad and what passed for a legal system out there caught up with her. They divorced, and for a year Phyl had my sister Karol, while I (her son Kent) lived with my dad on Yap, a “neighboring” Micronesian island. But contracts were completed, and everyone headed back to the states where the US courts reunited Phyl with both us kids. Temporarily back in Omaha, Phyl took an in-service heavy contract working with Nick Wilson in building a literacy foundation for the Iowa School for the Deaf, and served as a consultant on several Indian reservations to construct a culture-friendly English curriculum.
The new family settled in California. First around Ventura, where Phyl and Ivan met life-long friends John and Bonnie Milroy. Eventually the family settled in San Diego. Phyl worked as Vice Principal at both middle and high schools. To her considerable pride and life-long mystification, in 1973 she was chosen to lead the Poway Unified School District’s first implementation of COMPUTERS in the schools, initially for flexible class scheduling at the high school.
Once her kids had graduated, Phyl went back on the road. This time it was as Girls’ Dean at the International School Bangkok, where she stayed for five years. In addition to chaperoning school trips into the jungle, she became a regional speaker on behalf of the Myers-Briggs personality testing, for a time a very hot psychology and staff development tool, which enabled her to travel all around Southeast Asia. Bangkok was home base for travel adventures to Sumatra, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Nepal, even Myanmar/Burma. She wrote about it, including a feature and cover picture for Asia Magazine.
Phyl headed back to California in the early 1980’s. As principal at Los Molinos Elementary School, she launched a variety of school-community programs, and recruited a colleague from Thailand, Jenny Kay as a teacher. Her daughter married Mahmut, and south in San Diego her son Kent married Gingerlily. Along with a growing list of articles and short stories, Phyl wrote a musical adaptation of THE SNOW QUEEN (first by Magic Machine, later by MiraCosta College). Then Phyl was off again.
After considering both Costa Rica (access to health care?) and Alaska (“Bring your rifle to work. There are bears.”), she accepted a contract at the American School of Milan, Italy. Milan became home base for excursions and/or articles at the Ferrari factory (a memorable test drive for Ivan), Rome, and the perpetual adventure of driving in Italy.
With grandkids growing, Phyl returned to Chico, California, and retired from education. She bought a house with her daughter Karol, and the family Christmas get-togethers actually occurred more or less at Christmas. She got started with 6Meet and other writers. She also began volunteering at the Kirshner Wildlife Foundation, a remarkable operation caring for primarily lions and tigers and other big cats. (Kirshner.org)
Then Phyl really went to work. First she wrote KITI ON ICE, a novel based on doctoral research into pre- and early contact Inupiat culture she had done years earlier. Her lifelong fascination with animals led her to self-publish a children’s picture book, THIS IS THE AFRICAN JUNGLE. She published articles, short stories in other people’s anthologies, and occasionally poems. She finished ARCTIC CIRCLES, even as prospective publishers came and went.
After her husband Ivan passed away peacefully at home, Phyl began planning for her next Great Adventure. Harkening to photo-safari pioneers Martin and Osa Johnson, her distant relatives, after years of planning Phyl travelled to Africa in 2002. Never entirely comfortable with digital technologies (despite the faith of the Poway school system and the decent DSLR her children bought her for the trip), it is possible she single-handedly kept Kodak film in business for an extra year or so.
In 2009 Phyl moved in to Doug’s home in New Hampshire, embraced by his grown kids as their WSM (“wicked step mother”): Irene, Carolyn, Eric and their families. She and Doug started the TAT writing group in town, plus she joined the online writing collective TNBW.
Each year since the move, after actual Christmas in New England, Phyl returned to her California family for a few weeks. Also to check on Chicki, visit Roberta and the cats, and catch up with 6Meet, Mary and Clideen, JC and SE and the rest.
With the support of an ambitious new publisher who released ARCTIC CIRCLES and republished KITI, in 2011 Phyl anthologized her travel writing into HERE, THERE AND OTHERWHERE. Before it was published, it had to be subtitled “Volume 1.” Even as Volume 2 was on the presses, that publisher collapsed. So in 2013 Phyl and her son Kent founded Kalana Press (named for Phyl’s granddaughters, Kalí and Sultana) and republished all four books under that imprint. (PhylsBooks.com or KalanaPress.com)
Phyl’s semi-autobiographical novel WINDOWPANES is being submitted to larger publishers, or will be published through Kalana Press. Her latest visit to California was to be extended by several weeks in order to compile material for a planned biography of Roberta Kirshner, of the Kirshner Wildlife Foundation.
On December 29, four days after arriving in California, Phyl was admitted into Enloe Hospital for emergency surgery due to a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. Within days she recovered enough to sell two books, and edit a paper for one of her nurses. A week later she was recuperating at home, making plans to get started on her Kirshner book. Friday afternoon, January 10, she suffered a massive stroke and returned to the hospital.
Phyl never lost her ability to understand or respond to speech, and she always participated during visits by Doug, her kids and grandchildren, and friends. Over the next few weeks her condition relatively stabilized, and she was moved out of the ICU. However, she never recovered the ability to swallow or speak, or to visually recognize words or letters. Faced with steadily escalating medical challenges (requiring sedation and increasingly invasive interventions), and bleak prospects for recovery, on February 7 Phyl instructed her physicians to change her treatment to palliative care. The following morning she said goodbye to her children, and via Skype to Doug. That afternoon she drifted off to sleep and never awoke.
We miss you, Mom. But that’s quite a life.
–Phyl’s kids, Karol and Kent (KLBrisby@gmail.com)