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In town: Jeanne Phillips brings "Dear Abby" advice to new generations of readers.

it takes a lot of experience to dole out advice to millions of readers every day, but Jeanne Phillips learned how at her mother's knee. Pauline Friedman Phillips was Abigail Van Buren for years before passing the torch to her daughter; and Phillips' aunt was advice columnist Ann Landers, so Phillips comes by her skills naturally. She'll speak at the Junior League of Sarasota's Legacy Luncheon Feb. 25 at Michael's on East.

Q. You started helping your mother with her column while still a teen, right? I did it to earn my allowance. She would hand me a stack of letters to answer, and if she approved what I wrote, they would run; if not, she'd hand them back to try again. It was not strange to me; it was an assignment, and I learned from it.

Q. And you took to it right away? From the time my mother walked in with a letter from a man who said, "I have a daughter with a weight problem, and she's depressed. Can you help?" I said, "Cut out the hamburgers and fries, get out of the bedroom and exercise"; and, finally, "I know you can do it, I have faith in you." A few weeks later we got another letter saying she took the advice and was doing better. I knew I had helped someone.

Q. Did you ever consider another career? I turned my hand to interior design for a while. But I gradually became more immersed in the column, especially when my mother began exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's disease. We were the poster family for denial on that. But eventually you have to face what's going on. I talk to Alzheimer's support groups often now.

One of the great things about my mother was that she told me early on, "There's never a question I won't answer for you." There was never a book in the house I couldn't read. She told me the facts of life when I was six.

Q. Are the problems today different from decades ago? People are more outspoken today, especially on subjects that used to be taboo, like homosexuality and interracial dating. But my column is all about human relationships--with husbands, wives, in-laws, kids--so some things don't change. Kids still want the same things: to be accepted, to establish relationships with their parents. Sometimes they feel their parents are too busy. I tell them, "You need to talk to your mother, tell her how much you need her." Or possibly there's an aunt, a grandmother, the parent of a close friend.

My readers are my friends. I don't consider my column a monologue, I consider it a dialogue. And I do follow up with people after the initial contact.

Q. Do you plan to carry on the Dear Abby tradition indefinitely? I'll do this as long as I can. I feel so deeply honored to continue the work my aunt and mother started. It's a responsibility, but it's not a burden. If I'm drained at the end of the day, I go to my husband's arms, or he'll take me out to dinner. There will always be a need for Dear Abby.

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Author:Kipling, Kay
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 2008
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