Phyllis Handley lived her life on her terms and it could also be said she left it on her own terms.
Mrs. Handley died on Monday, Dec. 31 at the age of 91 after a productive and giving life which greatly benefited the Jackson area and its citizens and will continue to do so for many years to come. Friends and family members said their final farewells to Phyllis last Saturday, Jan. 5 when she was laid to rest at Jackson’s Fairmount Cemetery alongside her beloved late husband, Jack Handley.
Perhaps her greatest public contribution was her long and dedicated service to the Jackson City Library. She served as the president of the Library Board for many years and has widely been credited with being the driving force in the ambitious project to move the library in 1975 from cramped quarters at the Memorial Building to its current location just down the street at 21 Broadway Street.
Phyllis was also a leading and much revered member of the First Baptist Church of Jackson and was so highly esteemed by her fellow members that she was asked to ring the church’s historic bell when the church celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2016. Professionally, Phyllis worked for many years as a highly respected deputy recorder in the Jackson County Recorder’s Office. Her knowledge of county government and our local communities, along with her friendly and helpful nature, made her a great ambassador for the courthouse. 
I think Phyllis was proud of her many accomplishments, but it was never about her and she certainly did not seek attention or credit for her many good works. She deeply appreciated the many community awards, honors and accolades she received along the way, but she was always modest when it came to accepting and talking about these recognitions. Instead she preferred to focus on the good that had been done and the team effort it took to accomplish it.
I found Phyllis to be a considerate, kind, loyal, generous, and gracious person, who cared deeply for those who were closest to her. I think this had something to do with the way she planned her funeral arrangements -- even on the occasion of her passing, she wanted it to be a positive day, not a sad one. Even the weather seemed to cooperate; the day was cold and windy but not gloomy as a bright sun shone in a brilliant blue sky.
There were no public calling hours at the Lewis-Gillum Funeral Home. There was not even a funeral, although I’m sure there could have been a large one at her beloved First Baptist Church if she had desired. Instead, there was only a graveside service at Fairmount Cemetery, but that was it for the sadness and solemnity. 
Immediately following the graveside service, there was an informal luncheon conducted at the First Baptist Church in the basement fellowship hall. As a devout Christian, Phyllis believed her death was a beginning rather than an end and would reunite her with her late husband, Jack, and others who had been dear to her. And as for the living who were dear to her, she would not have wanted her death to bring those prolonged tears and sadness. In Phyllis’ memory, guests were invited to ring the historic church bell, but this was a joyful event and not a sad one.
There were photos, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia on display at the church, and only a very brief program following the luncheon. There were reflections and reminiscing in small groups, but there appeared to be no tears or sadness, just people getting together for a friendly event whose common bond was knowing Phyllis. 
Just across the alley from the church, the Jackson City Library closed for the day in memory and honor of Phyllis, which was certainly an appropriate gesture of respect. In the library’s Potter Room, a small group of current and former library employees and board members gathered for their own informal reception following the graveside service. Once again, there were no tears or frowns, just people who knew and worked with Phyllis sharing their memories and their thoughts. On display were some of the community awards and honors bestowed to Phyllis for her good works, which of course, included the library. 
Longtime Library Treasurer Gretchen Crabtree was decked out in a Joe Morgan Cincinnati Reds uniform jersey in honor of Phyllis’ longtime devotion to the Cincinnati Reds. Gretchen offered a final tribute to Phyllis by playing her favorite song on the piano, The Hills of Ohio, which was composed in 1941 by famed songwriter and Jackson native, Frank Crumit. 
I’m sure Phyllis would have approved of all the proceedings and how they unfolded.
From a personal standpoint, I’m from a different generation than Phyllis. However, I grew up in Jackson and through 40-plus years of working in the local media, I have come to know her well both professionally and personally. I counted her as a good friend as well as a role model for living. Knowing her gave me additional insight into her good works and more importantly, what motivated them. 
Phyllis Handley was truly driven by a love of her hometown, her school district and her home county, was proud of all of them, and was literally a walking, talking, working Chamber of Commerce. When a need arose and there was important work to be done, she was willing to roll up her sleeves, and if necessary, help lead the way. 
Those who wish to honor her memory in a tangible way may make memorial donations to the First Baptist Church of Jackson, the Jackson City Library or the Jackson City Schools.
To Phyllis, being a good citizen wasn’t just about obeying the law and paying your taxes, it was about being willing to do whatever one can to make his/her community a better place to live. Phyllis Handley reached out and did that her whole life and we are better for it.

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