On January 20th I attended the memorial ceremony of a very dear friend Beth Phillips, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At the service Beth’s daughter Pat Phillips, The Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, Paul Edwards and I spoke. I want to share with you my reflections. Beth taught me a lot and she truly believes in the Liberal values.
It is an absolute privilege for me to speak today and I want to thank Pat and Gordon for giving me this opportunity.
I want to thank each and every one of you for being here today to celebrate Beth’s life.
My husband Nuralla, son Azool and daughter Farzana and I live in British Columbia and came to know Beth over 20 years ago. Though we live in British Columbia, we never ever felt we were very far from our friend Beth. She always had time to speak to us but most importantly if we wanted to be cheered up we would call Beth. By the end of the call not only were we in better humour but often in stitches from laughing.
We all know Beth always had a way of saying things. She truly was special. I know we all have stories of what she said and did and we could easily put a book together of Beth’s jokes.
To Beth’s 4 granddaughters – Sandy, Andrea, Katherine, and Karen:
I feel I know each of you well because of all the stories Beth shared about you. She was truly a very proud grandmother and she always told me all four of you made her proud.
To her son Gordon:
Everyone here knows of the very special bond the two of you always had. From the time you were born when it was just the two of you as your Dad was away serving our country to the day she died. You were not only her son but also her friend.
To her daughter Pat:
We know how she walked with you and was always there for you but most of all she always appreciated all the very special thoughtful things you did for her. You were always as she said “her anchor” She could always rely on you. You were not only her special daughter but also her moral and physical support.
I have so many things I can say about Beth as I’m sure all of you could too. Time does not permit so I have chosen three.
I’m going to talk to you about
– Beth the teacher;
– Beth the risk taker; and
– Beth the jokester.
Beth truly believed in the liberal values of equality, tolerance and inclusion. I want to share a story with you.
In 1993 I ran to become a member of Parliament in North Vancouver and at the last minute my campaign manager who Beth knew well was given another opportunity. Beth without hesitation offered to be my campaign manager and uprooted herself from Winnipeg and came to stay with me in North Vancouver.
Some North Vancouver constituents at that time had a vision of what type of MP they wanted and I did not fit that vision. So the constituents would call Beth. They would beat around the bush about my colour, origin, etc and Beth would with a smile on her face tell them she was from Winnipeg and she did not understand their insinuations. She would ask very innocent questions of them. Some would stop phoning, some she converted and some were persistent. They would call and would be forced to face their own prejudices. Through Beth’s patient questioning, I believe she had many North Vancouver constituents look within and examine their prejudices.
She would ask – explain to me:
I do not understand,
Do you mean you do not want a brown person to represent you?
What exactly do you mean when you say she is different?
Then she would proceed to tell them something about me.
She did a great service for us all as she was a great teacher.
Beth was also a great risk taker. If Beth observed that the Liberal leadership whether in Manitoba or Ottawa were bickering and their bickering was hurting the party she had the guts to face up to the individuals and ask them to meet each and work out their differences and if not able to do so then to just stop.
I really learned a very valuable lesson from her. I know many times her interventions did not make her popular but she would say that at her age she could ask them to behave.
I can tell you I have tried this and boy many times have ended up with both sides mad with me.
Beth the risk taker taught me that if you believe in the Liberal Party you have to take on the Giants when their ego takes over.
Beth – you truly were a risk taker to maintain unity in the Liberal Party and in the many other organizations in which you volunteered.
Beth the jokester.
There was never a dull moment when Beth was around. There are so many stories. One late night after a long day at the campaign office Beth and my husband Nuralla had a conversation regarding campaign signs.
Beth said: ” Nuralla, you are not putting up enough signs”.
Nuralla responded: “Beth, I cannot put up any more since as soon as I put them up the Reform Party team takes them down.”
I can tell you that Beth was not satisfied with this situation.
Later that week Beth and I were driving home one evening when Beth was considering what the next steps should be with regard to getting more signs out.
We just turned a sharp corner towards my house when Beth saw someone in the act of removing one my signs. Before I could stop, Beth jumped out of the car and ran towards this young man and literally grabbed his hand and asked for an explanation. I do not know what explanation a person can give when they have just finished taking a large sign down next to the sign of the other candidate.
Beth spoke to that young man as only Beth can and moments later I saw him putting the sign back up. I am sure she changed this man forever.
All this time I stood by the side of the car shouting at Beth to forget the sign and return to the car. Beth would have none of that.
The way Beth related the incident to everyone we all just laughed for days and days. I cannot tell you how shocked people were when they heard the story. Then they all had a good laugh. Beth taught a young reform Party Campaigner a lesson. She taught him if you do not play by the rules, she will teach you what the rules are and she will do it in style and with a sense of humour. For me, Beth Philips was truly the type of person we should all aspire to become.
To Beth’s granddaughters:
Your grandmother was not only a special friend to you all but a very special person to all in the Liberal Party.
She was a special friend to the Liberal Party of Manitoba.
She was a special friend to the Liberal Party of Canada.
And she was a very special friend to me.
The four of you, and Gordon, Sue and Pat have lost someone special and so have we.
She leaves a great legacy behind in all the things she taught you and us to fight for liberal values and if need be take the risk for the sake of the party’s unity and do all of this in style. Beth was also very generous with her time and devoted thousands and thousands of hours to serve the Liberal Party of Canada and the Liberal Party of Manitoba. She was extremely passionate about what the Liberals stand for and wanted to make our community a better place for all of us. This is Beth’s legacy.
We will all remember the twinkle in her eye and her smile when she would constantly tell you, “Save yourself for your old age it can be fun.”
Beth my friend RIP and we know your spirit will always be with us.