When Pauline Phillips — known to millions as Dear Abby — died Thursday in Minneapolis at age 94, she left pleasant memories for Lexingtonians who met her and heard her speak during a visit here in October 1962.
Abby came to Lexington to address the annual United Fund kick-off dinner, but her visit was not limited to that function. The petite whirlwind columnist had a schedule that included meeting with a Teen Forum, speaking to a group of United Fund workers, posing for any photographer who asked and granting interviews to any reporter with a pad and pencil or microphone.
Dear Abby's advice column was published in The Leader, Lexington's afternoon paper of the time, and as city editor, I was chosen to be host (along with my wife, Jackie) during Abby's visit. When first given the assignment, I had a feeling of semi-dread. I was wrong — it turned out to be one of the most entertaining jobs I had, a fun assignment indeed.
After meeting Abby at the airport, my next task was to be her companion (with my wife) at a dinner The Herald-Leader gave in Abby's honor at the Phoenix Hotel. When dessert time came, Abby turned to Jackie for help. Pecan pie, a chef's specialty, was recommended. Abby tried it and was enthralled. She was taken to the hotel kitchen to compliment the chef, who was so happy that he gave Abby his recipe, along with permission to run it in her column.
She published it soon after and was amazed, she told me, at the response she got. "Notes by the thousands" was her description. She published the recipe several more times over the years. Soon it became "Abby's pecan pie" and has been reprinted by her daughter, Jeanne, who took over the column when Abby became ill.
During Abby's visit, I was pleased to learn that she and I had mutual Lexington friends: Betty and Jamie Molloy of Mt. Brilliant Farm. Abby became friends with the Molloys when the three were active in the national March of Dimes campaign.
This mutual friendship led to the start of a practical joke that has been mostly a secret until now. The incident was a personal interplay between Abby and the Molloys, with Abby's column and me as the go-between. Here's how it went:
In her thank-you note after her visit here, Abby wrote this message: "CONFIDENTIAL TO Henry Hillary on that farm near Lexington: Next time you take a trip, take your own wife along for the novelty of it."
Henry Hillary was the alias for Jamie Molloy, Abby told me in a phone conversation. The confidential note would appear only in her column in The Leader, of course. I shuddered at the thought of using her column for personal messages. I told Abby that if my boss, Fred B. Wachs (Leader editor) found out, my employment would be in jeopardy.
She assured me: "Don't worry about Fred Wachs; I'll take care of him." I worked for Mr. Wachs for more that 20 years, and never did I hear anyone say they would "take care" of him.
Such bravado on Abby's part convinced me. Placing my career in harm's way, I inserted the item in her column; and other jokes to Henry Hillary in later columns. Our secret was kept until this day. We received phone calls in The Leader newsroom at the time asking who Henry Hillary was and how Dear Abby knew him. Those questions called for professional fibbing with fingers crossed.
Abby's column was a popular feature in The Leader, and readership polls always found it among the favorites. Her visit in 1962 went a long way toward enhancing that popularity.
William J. Hanna was city editor of The Lexington Leader and associate editor of The Herald-Leader. Dear Abby's column, written by her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, will continue to publish in The Herald-Leader.