In Memoriam: Phyllis Conley

In Memoriam: Phyllis Conley

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Phyllis Conley, former Director of Development and “Force of Nature,” Dies

Phyllis Conley, who began work as a secretary at Union Theological Seminary in November 1961 and retired in June 2004, as Director of Development Services and Special Events, passed away on March 31, 2021, of a non-COVID- related infection. She was 86. During her 40 year career at Union, Phyllis worked with eight different Union presidents.

“Phyllis was one of Union’s greats,” said the Rev. Dr. Milton McC. Gatch, Professor Emeritus of Church History and Director Emeritus of Burke Library. “She was always cheerful but with a wicked sense of humor. Always helpful, she had a long, detailed institutional memory that we counted on and drew from constantly.”

Union trustee Calvin M. Mew ʼ73 fondly remembered Phyllis as “one of those people you could say was a ‘force of nature.’”

Janet R. Walton ʼ79, Professor Emerita of Worship, wrote that she remembered Phyllis as “the heart of every party and even meetings; she met every person with care and joy.”

The Seminary threw a retirement party for her on May 22, 2002 that brought more than 160 attendees from all over the country. With the ringing of handbells, and with Harry Huff accompanying on the piano, Phyllis was roasted, toasted, and entertained in grand style.

The festive send-off ended with a toast by Phillis who in her own words, shared, “I’ve had a great run in this place. I have been truly blessed to have worked with so many caring people who have made, and will continue to make, a difference here at Union, in the country, and the world.”

“The Union community and I will be eternally grateful to Phyllis for her long and distinguished record of service to our community,” said Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary. “She was an incredible person and professional and will be sorely missed.”

After a few years of retirement, Phyllis decided to return to work. She took a job at New York Theological Seminary, where she worked as Director of Development Service until January 1, 2015.  She later moved to Florida to be near her daughter Gail.

Phyllis died with Gail and Gail’s husband by her side, and her grandson Luc on the phone with her.

“She was active till the end,” Gail later wrote, “singing, taking keyboard lessons and the life of the party as always.”