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A Pepsi toast to Patsy Murphy Phillips

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POSTED December 16, 2008 4:03 a.m.
Standing at a graveside memorial service on a cold and damp morning last week brought a half century of memories into perspective with the passing of Patsy Murphy Phillips.
“One of the most wild and genuine people we’ve ever known,” was how a former Manteca reporter and friend Pat (Locke) Bailey described her in a well- delivered eulogy.    She had an unquenchable love for animals — mostly horses — Marlboro cigarettes and Pepsi, Locke noted
Phyllis (Vick) Jamison, a friend who had shared early newspapering days with Patsy,  felt it was only right to end the hour-long service with a special salute to her and to her late husband Darell Phillips with a toast — Pepsi, of course.  A pack of Marlboros was also placed on the lectern.    
Patsy was the only daughter of the late Bulletin publisher and World War II hero George Murphy, Jr. and his wife Pat.  It was in working at the paper in the early ‘60s that I was first introduced to the Murphy kids — Patsy had two brothers Mike and Tom  — she was still a teen in high school back then.
The ashes of both Patsy and Darell were placed by the graves of George and Pat at the old cemetery on French Camp Road.
The graveside remembrance for Patsy drew mostly family and a handful of friends.  Pat Locke is a news writer for the University of California at Davis and Phyllis Vick has recently retired from Allen’s Jewelry on Yosemite Avenue.  Graphic artist Ed Scherini was there who’d worked with Patsy at The Manteca News.  Long-time classified advertising manager Marge Craig and her husband Joe had both worked with Patsy.  And, of course, Darell’s sons and daughters were there,  too, who had cut their teeth working on their dad’s newspapers growing up.
So much has passed with time.  Sobering to me was the realization that most of the staff members whom I had known weren’t there at the service, they couldn’t be, because they too have gone to meet their Maker.  And, to be standing at George Murphy’s grave site during the service lent more gravity to memories of what we had known as the “grass roots press.”

She loved exploring
for Indian artifacts
I remember well Patsy running the large process camera and developing those full-page negatives and half tones for publication.  The back of the camera was actually a room doubling as a dark room facility.
Pat Locke was a clear family choice to lead the memorial.
“I was thinking the other day of how it was that I came to be sharing this time with you,” she said.  
It had its roots in being hired by Phillips 31 years ago when he “tactfully” told her he needed a “cheap reporter.”
“Secondly because Patsy took pity on a young 20-something kid trying to scratch out a plot in the Manteca community gardens with a cheap shovel and rake,” Locke added.
She said Patsy had told her that “gardening is good therapy”  and took her out to the ranch “where we can really garden.”
Nothing shaped Patsy’s life more than her childhood trips to her grandmother’s cattle ranch in the hills of Golconda, Nevada, Locke explained.  It was in those hills near Winnemucca that Patsy learned to love exploring the lore of the Native American Indians as well as plant and animal life.
Locke pointed out that she would scour the hills for hours in search of tear drops and obsidian arrowheads as well as any Indian artifacts she could discover.  Her collection includes grinding stones and arrowheads which her children loved to take to school for show and tell.
It was in nature that Patsy found her closest connection to the spiritual world, Locke noted.

One of her pets was
a de-scented skunk
Special childhood pets included a de-scented skunk, a spider money and, of course,  the occasional cat or dog.  This was in addition to the “Office Cat” she knew as a child at her dad’s newspaper.  That cat always ended up pictured above some controversial column that he was credited for scratching into the hot lead type.
Not happy with the confines of city life, she begged her parents for a horse in her early teens.  She named her first ride “Babe” boarding the mare at Jack Tone Stables.  Locke related many of Patsy’s fond memories of riding the river banks and forging the San Joaquin River — mostly unbeknown to her parents.
Locke pointed out the “E-ticket ride” of Patsy’s life was when she married former Bulletin editor Darell Phillips making their first home in Modesto.
“Now you can take the girl out of the country, but …..that’s right, you couldn’t take the country out of Patsy,” she stressed.  “It wasn’t long before Patsy and Darell were digging postholes and building a corral in their back yard for Patsy’s Horse,  “Babe” and daughter Shanna’s pony, “Golly.”
The equestrian center was torpedoed by neighbors or city fathers — it’s not clear which carried the most weight but the couple had to pull up stakes and move their home to Escalon.  Patsy was credited with creating the animal spark for two daughters to attend Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  One earned her  BA in agriculture and the other in journalism.
Her love for gardening included picking zucchini blossoms before they opened and frying them in egg for breakfast, Locke said.  She also taught her children how to pluck warm eggs from a chicken.
Darell had left the Bulletin in the mid-’60s for a stint at the Modesto Bee as sports editor and later had a hand in the birth of the now-defunct Manteca News.  By the time he had returned to the Manteca Bulletin as general manager he and Patsy had sparked a love for race horses.
Once Patsy learned the sport could be cruel to the horse, she asked to quit their hobby and took up raising ferrets instead.  
“I am told that one of her favorite ferrets, “Alice,” is still in her freezer because patsy could never decide just where she should be buried,” Locke said.
Probably most important was that Patsy was always wild about her kids, her friend added.  
“You know, being a mom is the toughest job, but it’s the best job,” Patsy was quoted as saying.  
Locke said she remembers a sage bit of advice from Patsy about caring for children: “If a kid cries, don’t worry; if a kid screams, then you run!”    
Her cancer put something of a “crimp” in Patsy’s activities but not in her style, Locke said.  “She greeted it with the same strength and humor that were the hallmarks of her life.”
She was down but she definitely was not out.  She quickly discovered that a motorized wheelchair comes in really handy for chasing chickens — unless that motorized chair tips over breaking a femur, Locke added.
“And even though she broke her femur, had chemotherapy and radiation and really couldn’t walk safely, she never once complained,” Locke concluded.
Then there was the indelible moment I will never forget when everyone raised their cups of “Pepsi” to the memory of that one unique and unforgettable person none of us will ever forget, “Patsy Murphy Phillips.”
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