Remembering Phyllis Steinbrecher

“Mensch” is a Yiddish word.  A great compliment, it refers to a person with admirable qualities:  integrity, honor, responsibility, goodness.  A mensch helps many people, in many ways, and in so doing enriches the world.

Phyllis Steinbrecher

Phyllis Steinbrecher

I’ve  only heard mensch applied to men — but if a woman can be a mensch, Phyllis Steinbrecher certainly was.

She was known for years as an educational consultant, working with teenagers (and their parents) in a wide variety of situations.  Wearing many different hats — instructor, guide, parent, therapist, friend, nag, cheerleader — she helped thousands of young people find the right place for college, and their future.

Phyllis never said simply, “Yale, Harvard, Brown” or “Bates, Bowdoin, Colby.”  She understood teenagers’ heads — and their parents.  A good part of her work consisted of telling moms and dads:  “Forget Princeton.  Your kid will love Colgate a lot more.”  And they did.

Another portion of her work involved finding therapeutic programs for kids who would never get to college, because they couldn’t graduate from high school.  Once she got them straightened out, then she got them into college.  It was always the right one for them.

I know all this because for two decades years I worked on educational projects with Phyllis.  One involved ghostwriting — with several psychologists — a book called You CAN Say No To Your Teenager. That was a terrible title — it really was about saying the right thing to your teenager, at the right time — but it was also one of my most enjoyable jobs ever.

For nearly a year the professionals and I met at Phyllis’s Weston home.  While eating wonderful food, they told stories of their clients; I then put their stories on paper.  What I remember most about those nights are Phyllis’s tremendous insights about teenagers; her excitement about every youngster she worked with, and her superb sense of humor.

A colleague in her Westport firm, Steinbrecher Consulting, said:

She has been my mentor, my advisor, my confidant and my dear, dear friend.  She was a remarkably accomplished woman who made everyone she met feel special.  I watched her touch hundreds of lives, and impact each one for the better.  Her gut instincts were spot on and she never minced words — but at the same time did so with grace.

Phyllis made her mark in educational consulting.  But she was devoted to many other causes — particularly breast cancer.  Since 2006 the Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation — her creation — has helped hundreds of women by providing funds for important non-medical needs like rent, utilities, transportation, specialty bras, even baby-sitting during chemo treatments.  It’s a wonderful concept — one only a mensch could dream of, and make true.

Phyllis was interested in breast cancer because for decades she suffered from it.  She beat it a couple of times — along with several other health issues — but in the end it got her.  Phyllis died yesterday afternoon.

It’s a cliche to call someone a “quiet hero.”  I won’t say that about Phyllis, because she was not quiet.  She wasn’t loud, mind you — but you knew whenever she was around, and whenever she had her hand in something.  She was a mensch — and a presence.

I miss her presence already.

(Phyllis Steinbrecher’s life will be celebrated with a service tomorrow [Friday] at 12:30 p.m., at the Conservative Synagogue on Hillspoint Road.  Contributions in her honor may be made to:  Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation, PO Box 616, Westport, CT 06881.)

4 responses to “Remembering Phyllis Steinbrecher

  1. Phyllis was a hero and inspiration to so many women who have been faced with a breast cancer diagnosis. I will miss her terribly.

    Susan Santangelo

  2. I met Phyllis about 6 months ago. My favorite day was when we met at Balduccis, she was with her granddaughter and she was feeling very good, and when she was wow, sassy, saucy, funny, smart and kind. I wish we could have spent many more times getting to know each other better.
    We will continue her dreams

  3. I just wanted to say how much my Mother adored Phyllis. Although she was long retired from her husband Steve’s law firm, she kept in touch with Phyllis and always looked forward to her letters, especially at this time of year.
    I will never forget the lovely gift she and Steve sent out to California when my oldest daughter, Alison was born. that was twenty five years ago and it seems like yesterday. My Mom told me so many stories about the wonderful work that she did and how much she meant to so many families and their children. My prayers are with you Phyllis and of course for Steve and the family. Your legacy will live on through all of your kind work and the fruits found in the happiness and success of all those that you cared to guide.

  4. Pingback: In Honor Of Phyllis | 06880