Elizabeth L. "Bobbi" Phillips, who co-founded and operated a West Baltimore funeral home, died of congestive heart failure Dec. 28 at her home. She was 93.
Born Elizabeth Lattimore in Baltimore and raised on Schroeder Street, she was a 1936 Frederick Douglass High School graduate. She earned a diploma at the old Cortez Peters Business School on Eutaw Place. She also attended the University of Maryland, College Park and Morgan State University.
"She was a woman of amazing fortitude, natural beauty, dignity, strong character, modesty, unrelenting strength and quietness, and calmness of spirit," said Doretha "Dottie" Hector, a co-owner of the funeral business, who worked closely with her for the past 30 years and now runs the business.
In 1951, Mrs. Phillips and her husband, Arlington S. Phillips, opened their first funeral home on North Monroe Street. She worked at the funeral home, which bore her husband's name, as a licensed funeral director. In addition to those duties, Mrs. Phillips also worked for the state's Department of Human Resources' Employment Security Administration. She retired in 1979 as supervisor of its Eastpoint office.
In 1965, the couple received a $65,000 Small Business Administration loan to buy a former Silber's bakery shop at Monroe Street and Westwood Avenue. They also bought adjoining rowhouses, partially razed them and built a new funeral home, one of the first to be constructed in Sandtown for many decades.
"They worked hard as partners," said Ms. Hector. "They repaid the loan in full in 10 years."
Her husband died in 1979. She then became president of the renamed Elizabeth L. Phillips Funeral Home and worked closely with its staff.
"She was an icon for women in Baltimore's funeral industry," said Hari P. Close, president of the Maryland State Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors. "After her husband's death, she took up the mantle."
Carlton Douglass of the Maryland branch of the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association recalled Mrs. Phillips as being "fantastic in looks as well as in spirit." He said she was honest in business and when she spoke, "It was direct and to the point."
Friends said that Mrs. Phillips liked to go horseback riding but found that Baltimore's riding stables, which were racially segregated, were closed to her. Philadelphia's riding academies, however, were available to her.
"Many Saturdays she'd be seen boarding the old Pennsylvania Railroad so she could do her riding," said Juanita Morton, a fellow funeral director.
Other friends recalled her personal charity and support of education by giving scholarships to needy students.
"You were always pleased to see Bobbi when she walked in a room," said a colleague, Rosa James, who worked for many years at March Funeral Homes. "She was warmhearted, and when she heard that someone was in need, she helped."
Mrs. Phillips retired in 2001. She enjoyed traveling to Bermuda and the Caribbean. She also read two books a week.
She was a member of the Gethsemane Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. She also gardened at her Belle Avenue home in Northwest Baltimore.
In 2009, she was honored as a pioneer in the funeral industry by the group 100 Black Women in Funeral Service.
Mrs. Phillips belonged to numerous professional groups, including the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association. She was named a life member of the Maryland State Funeral Directors Association.
A funeral Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. James Episcopal Church, Lafayette and Arlington avenues, where she had been a member of the parish council and St. Cecilia's Guild.
Survivors include Stephanie Chapple, a goddaughter who lives in Baltimore; and a cousin.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun