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Ana Pearl Phillips, matriarch, pianist and retired medical office administrator, dies

Ana Pearl Phillips played and taught piano.
Ana Pearl Phillips played and taught piano.

Ana Pearl Phillips, a family matriarch, pianist and former executive assistant at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center, died of old-age complications Oct. 22 at Lorien in Elkridge. The Columbia resident was 94.

Born Ana Pearl McSween in Panama City, Panama, she was the daughter of Ernest McSween and his wife, Veronica.

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“She was the youngest and only daughter of three children,” said her daughter Diane Phillips LaGuerre. “Growing up in Panama, Ana and her family spoke both fluent Spanish and English in the home. This prepared them for migration to the United States.”

She was the sister of Cirilo McSween, the first African American to be a New York Life Insurance agent and a colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

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Her daughter said that while in Panama, her mother studied music and frequently played the piano. She also taught others to play the piano while she herself mastered the instrument.

“As a concert pianist, she often earned standing ovations for her performances and became well known in her community for her musical ability,” said her daughter Diane.

Mrs. Phillips left Panama for the United States in the early 1940s. She and her family settled in New York City where she lived with her mother as a teenager. While there she met her future husband, George McKenzie Phillips Sr., a psychiatrist who served as the director of Crownsville State Hospital from 1965 to 1980.

“Besides her outward beauty, it was her love of music that attracted my father, who was himself musically talented,” said her daughter Lisa Phillips.

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The couple spent their early married years in the Washington, D.C., area, while Dr. Phillips earned his medical degree at Howard University. They later lived in Crownsville, where she raised her eight children.

Mrs. Phillips passed on her musical ability and enthusiasm to her children. They formed a band called J R and The Royals that played the music of Aretha Franklin, Mandrill and Earth, Wind & Fire.

“My mother was their biggest fan,” said her daughter Lisa.

The group later changed its name to Licyndiana, which incorporates their names and their mother’s.

She followed her sons when they formed Starpoint, a rhythm and blues group.

After moving to Columbia, Mrs. Phillips joined the Christ Episcopal Church where she worked in the church office and assisted with correspondence.

She was also an administrator at the Library of Congress in the 1950s.

Mrs. Phillips worked as an executive secretary at the University of Maryland Medical Center and Johns Hopkins Hospital’s surgical unit.

“She advised the doctors on their retirement options and their 401(k)s. She was financially savvy,” said her son Orlando McKenzie Phillips of Annapolis.

She was last employed at Enterprise Foundation, a charity affiliated with the Rouse Co. in Columbia.

“Throughout her career, my mother was known for her professionalism, attention to detail and pleasant disposition towards everyone,” said her daughter Lisa.

Mrs. Phillips served as a member of the Links Incorporated Annapolis Chapter, a charitable organization dedicated to enriching, sustaining, and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other people of African ancestry.

Her daughters said that through this organization, Mrs. Phillips met and made friendships with other Links members.

She also volunteered at Crownsville Hospital Center and received awards for her work with the Community Action Agency of Anne Arundel County.

In 1986, she received a Community Service Award from the United Charity Campaign of Maryland State Employees and Retirees of the Hopkins/Maryland Department of Surgery.

An accomplished cook, Mrs. Phillips was known for her banana pancakes and chicken and rice (arroz con pollo), a dish that paid homage to her Latin roots.

She also enjoyed sewing, singing, dancing, listening to music, playing the piano, and watching her favorite news and reality TV shows.

“My mother overcame trials along the way, including the loss of her eldest three children and many health challenges of her own. Ana continued to pour out love to her family and friends with unmatched beauty and grace,” said her son Orlando.

Survivors include three sons, Muhammed McKenzie Phillips of Columbia, Orlando McKenzie Phillips of Annapolis and Gregory Phillips of Bowie; two daughters, Diane Phillips LaGuerre of Columbia and Lisa Phillips of Bowie; 12 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Services were held Nov. 1 at Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia.

Her husband died in 1997. Her son George McKenzie Phillips Jr. died earlier this year. A son, Ernesto Phillips, died in 2005. A daughter, Cynthia B. Phillips, died in 1989.

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