Phyllis Kirkpatrick (née Newell) died September 15, 2021.
She was born on Mother’s Day, May 14th, 1933 in Rochester, NY, the daughter of Grayce Reinhard Newell and George Taylor Newell. Phyllis and her beloved younger sister Judith McElhatton were raised in a modest household in Queens, NY - one filled with love, an appreciation for hilarity, sarcasm, arts, literature and great music. Phyllis embarked on years of classical piano training at the Mannes School of Music and the High School of Performing Arts, but was sidetracked as a teen when she was discovered as a naturally beautiful model. The term supermodel wasn’t coined for decades to come, but she enjoyed similar 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 titled “The Quandary of a Gifted Girl”, which celebrated her unique array of talents and potential.
Soon thereafter, a handsome Yale graduate introduced himself to Phyllis at a party in Manhattan. He told her he was a tennis professional named Bradley Bradshaw. He lied – he was neither. She was smitten and Sidney Alan Rosner became the love of her life. They married in 1955 and had 4 children in 11 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 kids never knew - in fact, there was a period of time when both of the 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. She may have trusted us kids a little too much, but 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 Phyllis nurtured a local NY chapter of Audubon, promoting recycling and clean air and water protections. She made her own bread and yogurt long before it was cool again, grew large gardens and berries, and landed the first permit in Scarsdale, NY for a flock of chickens. Her dream, however, was always to have a more rural home. She discovered Ashfield, MA, first as a summer resident in 1971, then permanently in 1976. Once there, she got involved in her community and remained deeply involved. She was 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, to horses, cows, goats and sheep. She loved nothing more than a house full of grandkids getting farmy with her. To the grandkids, she was Petie. Petie loved a good burn session in her fire pit, and she hosted chaotic family events that habitually started too late, but featured her beautifully prepared food, often French cuisine - nothing from a box. There was always music playing in the background: Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Scott Joplin, Tchaikovsky – what she called “real music”. She co-edited and assisted in the research and writing of volumes of the History of Ashfield, her beloved adopted home. She opened her beloved organic 40-acre farm to the operation of Sidehill Farm for yogurt making. While she travelled extensively in her lifetime, her favorite place on earth remained the family farm in Ashfield and she was always happiest just living a simple life there.
While her modeling career is often noted, Phyllis 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 fiber arts and was a brilliant seamstress. She never learned to ride a bike, but she could sew, spin, dye, knit, weave, crochet and quilt. When her nest emptied a bit, Phyllis turned 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 a ‘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 two stepchildren, Warren Kirkpatrick and Karin Kirkpatrick, 3.5 great-grandchildren, a beloved sister Ruth Newell Donohue; a niece Heather McElhatton, nephews Colin and JT McElhatton, and Jonathan Schneps as well as dearly loved cousins and countless friends. Phyllis was predeceased by her beloved Sidney Rosner in 1994, and her 2nd husband, Dale Kirkpatrick in 2001.
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. It’s ok if you would like to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah. Vote with your heart - not your wallet. Be kind – a little snark and snobbery is fine, meanness is not. Be creative. Read, cook, garden and sing with your children and grandchildren. Listen to good music – “real music”. Eat real butter. Pay attention to and appreciate the tiny, lovely, simple things in life, as Phyllis did. These things matter. May we all be more like our sweet mother Phyllis to honor her legacy.
If you would like to make a contribution, please do so to the Alzheimer’s Association in her memory.