From wrangling her horde of 10 kids, to writing dozens of birthday cards each year to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Pat Phillips has always been a loving mother and now matriarch of her large family.
Phillips, 91, grew up on a farm in Rockford before moving to Spokane to attend nursing school at Sacred Heart. At 21, she married Bob Phillips, then a Gonzaga Law student, and the couple started having children.
Their first, Mary Walmsley, kicked off continuous years of pregnancy for Phillips, who carried 10 children in 11 years. The six girls and four boys kept her busy.
At one point, the family had two dining tables. The older children sat together with their father at one table, and Phillips tended to the younger children at the other.
“There was always one in a highchair,” she said with a laugh.
As the children got older, Phillips instituted a schedule to keep things running smoothly.
“It was organized chaos. Things kind of had to run in an organized fashion,” said Carole Tonani, the ninth child. “Mom loved the buddy system.”
The family had a dry erase board with everyone’s names on it and the kids had to sign out when they left the house. The only rule was the kids “absolutely had to be home by 5 o’clock,” Tonani said.
They lived across from Indian Trail Park and used it as an extended backyard, Tonani said.
“It was fun,” said Mike Phillips, the fifth child. “It was hard to keep track of all of us and that was kind of neat because we had more freedom.”
Despite the craziness, Pat Phillips managed to spend individual time with each child. Mike Phillips remembers times he would have an earache and wake up to his mother comforting him in the middle of the night.
Once he had to make an instrument for show and tell at school. His mother took him to the store and bought a six-pack of bottled soda.
“Of course, there was plenty of us to drink it quick,” Mike Phillips said .
They filled the bottles with different levels of water for different sounds.
She was a “very attentive mother,” he said.
Pat Phillips loved kids so much that after her own 10 were out of the house she got a job at Lakeland Village as a nurse caring for children with developmental disabilities.
“She kept doing the kid thing forever,” Tonani said. “She would call them her kids.”
When she retired at 65, Phillips still felt she needed something to do, so she began volunteering at House of Charity until she moved into Touchmark on the South Hill about 15 years ago.
She now has late onset dementia, sometimes making it hard to keep her 24 grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren straight.
Still, she tries to send a birthday card to each one every year, Mike Phillips said.
“She has a birthday list that she just obsesses over to send out birthday cards to all of us,” he said.
While she may worry about birthday cards, that’s just about the only thing he remembers his mother worrying about.
“It’s always ‘Let go and let God,’ ” Mike Phillips said.
He credits her Catholic faith as part of why she’s rounding the corner to 92 this year.
Each year for her birthday, the entire family gathers, treating it not only as a chance to celebrate her but also their entire family.
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