Phyllis Ann Goldman Margolius, a native Washingtonian, was born at Sibley Memorial Hospital on July 18, 1941 and lived her entire life in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area until her untimely death from a rare form of aggressive cancer on February 20, 2014. She was a mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, niece, aunt, cousin, friend, confidant, teacher, and a classy American Jewish woman who devoted her life to her family and her community.
Although Phyllis would never identify herself as a feminist, she was absolutely a trendsetter, boundary breaker and the first woman to do so many things women had never done in the Washington Jewish community. She was a community leader and a true Pioneer Woman.
Phyllis proudly claimed herself a “HOUSEWIFE” – NOT a homemaker. Homemaker sounded too disingenuous for her. It was the 70s, she didn’t proclaim she was a “Gloria Steinem” or “Jane Fonda”, but she lived those forward thinking equal rights values in her every day traditional looking family life, filled with family, fun, and philanthropy. In between she found time to take classes and over approximately the next fifteen years, she earned a bachelor’s of science (summa cum laude) in Psychology from The American University.
Her husband professed he fell in love with her brain. She was smarter than anyone he had ever met and that not one time during their entire marriage did they ever run out of interesting conversation. Phyllis was a great dancer, a baseball fanatic, brilliant and a true intellectual match for anyone. Phil and her family were her first love. She and Phil were married for 45 years.
Philanthropy and community followed naturally behind as her second love. This is evidenced by the unending list of volunteer community commitments she made with her time and financial commitments for four plus decades.
Baseball (specifically the Washington Senators and then the Washington Nationals) was her third love. She was such a loyal baseball fanatic, she and the entire household went into “baseball mourning” when the Senators left Washington, D.C. When baseball returned to Washington, baseball returned to the Margolius household in every way shape and form. Phyllis even showed her support by donning baseball gear on a regular basis in her everyday wardrobe to having personalized tags on her car reading “MY NATS”.
Phyllis lived her life with dignity, class and humanity. She met with dignitaries, prime ministers, ambassadors, entertainers and politicians. She also met and loved talking to so many every day individuals in shops, cafes, and waiting in line at the grocery store. She treated everyone with the same attention, kindness, and respect. Every time she would meet someone new, she did not see it as a meeting but an opportunity to make a new friendship. She insisted on making a connection with every person she met. Many years ago she met an Ethiopian Jewish immigrant to Israel at an absorption center that assisted new immigrants to adjust to their new homeland. He had little or nothing to offer but friendship. He and Phyllis wrote letters to each other for years after they met.
Phyllis never forgot to acknowledge a family member or a friend’s birthday. She believed in second and third and even fourth chances. She was an optimist and a realist. She believed in silver linings. She would be the first one to say that the silver lining of her shortened life might be to say if just one or two people are helped to have a better Jewish life as a result of this Foundation being formed, than that could be the silver lining.
Phyllis beamed when being with or talking about her three children and five grandchildren. She taught her children important practical life lessons such as manners, respect, kindness, how to show up and be on time, to be financially literate and pay bills before they were due. She taught them practical lessons of humanity including compassion, empathy, warmth, charity, and unconditional love which they could emulate and pass on to their own children. She was naturally kind and always tried to make those around her comfortable, even at her own expense. Phyllis was a protector of what was fair and right and tried to extend that assistance to her community as well, through people she met by chance, to involvement in worthwhile social justice and service programs and organizations.
Phyllis disliked conflict. She never spoke an unkind word to anyone. She was deemed by some “the creator of mediation and conflict resolution”. A friend was quoted as saying “I admired her interest in wanting to unite, rather than divide and bringing people together in an effort to embolden and strengthen the community.”
And that is who Phyllis was and is her legacy – one of unconditional love, undeniable integrity, communal involvement, cooperation and collaboration and social justice. What Phyllis did best is she brought out the best in each of us and she brought us together.
Phyllis Margolius’ Communal Involvement
Vice President and General Campaign Chairman, United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Federation of Greater Washington
President of the United Jewish Endowment Fund
Member, Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Executive Committee
Board Member, Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
Other activities with the Jewish Federation: led four missions to Israel and South America, and held several women’s division leadership positions.
Vice President and Chairman, Council of Jewish Federations, Budget and Finance Committee
Chairman, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Washington Committee
Member, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Executive Committee
Governing Member, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Governing Member, March of the Living
Board Member, United Jewish Appeal
Board Member, United Israel Appeal
Board Member, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
President, Ruach Chapter of Na’amat USA (Pioneer Woman)
Board Member of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County
Phyllis received numerous awards for her dedicated service, both individually and with her husband, Philip.