Mother’s Day, May 14th 1933

Phyllis Jeanne Newell was born.

Phyllis Kirkpatrick (nee Newell) was born in Rochester, NY the daughter of Grayce Reinhard Newell and GeorgeTaylor Newell. Phyllis and her beloved younger sister Judith McElhatton were then raised in a modest household in Queens, NY, but one filled with love, an appreciation for hilarity, sarcasm, arts, literature and great music. Phyllis embarked on years of classical piano training and playing, but was sidetracked as a teen when she was discovered as a naturally beautiful model.  The term super-model wasn’t coined for decades to come, but she enjoyed fame in the 1940s through 1960s, gracing the covers and pages of Glamour, McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen and was featured in 100s of print advertisements.  In 1952, she was featured in a cover story by Life magazine, in an article entitled The Quandary of a Gifted Girl, celebrating her unique array of talents and potential.  

Soon thereafter, a handsome Yale grad introduced himself to Phyllis at a party in New York City – she was attendingwith a different date.  He told her he was a tennis professional named Bradley Bradshaw.  He lied – he was neither.  She married him anyway and Sidney Alan Rosnerbecame the love of her life.  They married in 1955 and had 4 children in 10 years; Beth R. Manning, Darcy W. Rosner, Gillian R. Rosner, and Wesley M. Rosner.  Their union was of mixed faith – at the time, not so common.  If they ever worried about it, we never knew  – in fact, there was a period of time when both of the two very different grandmothers lived with our family in our big suburban house in Westchester County. Our father lovingly referred to them as Polly Puritan and Beth Israel.  

Phyllis was a superb mother and matriarch, led by innate goodness, a hint of neuroses, and a desire to keep her family close to her and to the earth. She valued education and all forms of enrichment.  While she may have trusted us kids a little too much, she allowed and encouraged all of us to become good versions of our distinct selves, rearing a farmer, an artist, an accountant and a computer geek. During her years as a young suburban mom Phyllisnurtured a local NY chapter of Audubon, promotingrecycling and to protect clean air and water.  She made her own bread and yogurt long before it was cool again, grew berries, large gardens and obtained the first permit for aflock of chickens in Scarsdale, NY. Her dream, however,was always to have a more rural home and she discovered Ashfield, MA, first as a summer resident in 1971, then for good in 1976.  Once there, she got and stayed involved.  She became the founding editor of The Ashfield News. She made beeswax candles, sophisticated quilts and homemade butter.  She raised and hosted everything from pigs and chickens, horses and cows, to goats and sheep.  She loved nothing more than a house full of grandkidsgetting farmy with her.  To the grandkids, she was Petie.  Phyllis loved a good burn session in her fire pit and shehosted chaotic family events that habitually started too late, but featured her beautifully prepared food, often Frenchcuisine – nothing from a box.  And always there was music playing in the background – Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Scott Joplin, Tchaikovsky – what she called “real music”. She opened her beloved organic 40-acre farm to the operation of Sidehill Farm for yogurt making in 2005(?).  She co-edited and assisted in the research and writing of volumes of the History of Ashfield, her beloved adopted home. While she travelled extensively in her lifetime, her favorite place on earth remained the familyfarm in Ashfield and she was always happiest just living a simple life there.

While her modeling career is often noted, mom considered it one of the least interesting periods of her life.  She was an antiques dealer, a piano teacher, a tender mother, a small-scale farmer and an activist all before she turned 50. She loved all fiber arts and was a brilliant seamstress. She never learned to ride a bike, but she could sew, dye, knit, weave, crochet and quilt.  When her nest emptied a bit, Phyllisturned to some unfinished business, and began college.  While it took her several years to complete her degree, she double-majored in Music and French and emerged with a BA from Smith College in 1997.  While at Smith, she composed and performed original music.  She graduated with honors at age 64.  

Our sarcastic dad referred to her aptly as the barefoot contessa.  She was a cultured and elegant beauty, yet happiest digging and planting in soil fertilized by her farm animals.

She leaves behind an adoring crowd – daughter Beth Manning of Shelburne, MA, and her children Caitlin Manning, Eliza Manning Hanna and Bailey Manning; daughter Darcy Rosner of Greenfield, MA, and her children, Sarah Sullivan and Anna Sullivan Palmer, daughter Gillian Rosner of Gill, MA and her daughter Sophie Margola, and son Wesley Rosner of Shelburne, MA,and his children Noah Rosner, Leah Rosner and Abigail Rosner.  She also leaves 3.5 great-grandchildren, a beloved sister Ruth Newell Donohue; a niece Heather McElhatton,nephews Colin and JT McElhatton, and Jonathan Schnepsas well as dearly loved cousins and countless friends.  Phyllis was predeceased by her beloved Sidney Rosner in 1994.

In lieu of flowers, please learn the difference between “you’re” and “your”.  Also pay attention to the difference between “to” “two” and “too” as well as “there” “they’re” and “their”.  Take care of Mother Earth. Eat local and support small farms.  Accept and adore those unlike yourself. Love anyone you want.  Vote with your heart – not your wallet. Be kind – a little snark and snobbery is fine, meanness is not.  Read, cook, garden and sing withyour children and grandchildren.  Listen to good music – real music. Eat real butter.  These things matter.  Pay attention to and appreciate the tiny, lovely, simple things in life, as mom did.  May we all be more like sweet Phyllis to honor her legacy.

If you would like to make a contribution, please do so to the Alzheimer’s Association in her memory.