November 18, 2002
Woodinville Rep founder leaves lasting legacy to community
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Greene
Peg Phillips, 84, founder of the Woodinville Repertory Theatre died Nov. 16. Phillips worked tirelessly to bring professional theatre to the Eastside.
by Deborah Stone
Recently, one of Woodinville's well-known celebrities, the actress Peg Phillips, passed away of lung disease at the age of 84. Her talents both on and off the stage will be sorely missed, but the legacy she left will remain firmly entrenched in this community.
A native Washingtonian, Peg spent her formative years in the Everett area and then moved to California where she married and began raising a family. As a young woman, she already had the drama itch and began pursuing this passion through involvement in community theatre.
"She was quite a good actor," comments her daughter, the Reverend Elizabeth Greene of Boise, Idaho. "She liked the idea of playing a different role in life, if only for a short time.
" I remember when we lived on a farm in Northern California and my siblings and I attended a one room schoolhouse, from grades one through eight. Mom was very involved in volunteering at the school and she would get all the kids involved in doing performances and she would play the piano to accompany us. She was good at that, too, as she had a great ear for music and had taken lessons and classes at Julliard for awhile."
To help pay the bills and support her family, Peg worked as a bookkeeper and tax accountant for numerous years and it was only after she retired, that she began pursuing her acting career seriously. She had moved to Woodinville in the mid 70s and had longingly eyed the University of Washington Drama School. Years later, at the age of 66, she enrolled in the program and began taking acting classes. Before she could complete her degree, she was discovered and her career took off like a rocket.
Best known for her portrayal of Ruth Ann, the forthright and crusty storekeeper on the CBS-TV series "Northern Exposure," Peg was one of the more memorable characters on this quirky, award-winning show about life in a small Alaskan town.
"She really treasured her experience working on this show," says Greene. "She loved the whole thing, including being a star, having the fame and being among a group of highly talented people. It was the cat's pajamas for her."
Her work on "Northern Exposure" led to further acting jobs, including guest roles on other TV shows, as well as appearances in movies and television commercials. Off stage, Peg was busy,too, working to bring the arts to the community level. She founded Theatre Inside, a drama program for youth incarcerated at Echo Glen, and started Woodinville Repertory Theatre to fulfill her desire to bring quality professional theatre to the Eastside.
"Peg really wanted to draw attention to the arts and to the creative process," comments Marsha Stueckle, children's theatre director for the Rep. "She had this dream and then made it reality by getting lots of people excited and committed to making it happen. She had such a can-do attitude and she was so good at motivating others. Her demanding and driven qualities were tempered by immense caring and compassion. She was an excellent leader who knew how to trust people's abilities and then give them the space to go for it."
Stueckle describes Peg as a down-to-earth woman who lacked pretension and who fully practiced the equality theory. "She adhered to her view that nobody is better than anyone else," says Stueckle.
Greene agrees with this description of her mother and adds, "She was a very charismatic person with a wonderful sense of humor and a strong will. My mother gave me a sense of never giving up and faith in getting things done. Her comic outlook on life, even when bad things are happening, will remain with me forever."
Greene feels that the impetus for her mother's contributions to the community lay in her love of involvement with people and projects, as well as from a spiritual sense of duty to help others.
"She saw it as her responsibility as a human being," explains Greene. Stueckle views Peg's work as a great contribution to a solid community arts program and a foundation upon which to build for the future. She says, "Her hope was to someday get a permanent home for the theatre and expand its offerings to fully meet the needs of the community. I feel certain that we will accomplish that in the future. It may take some time, but we have a lot of support and after all, we had a wonderful role model to show us that goals can be accomplished with hard work and true dedication."
In addition to Greene, Ms. Phillips is survived by daughter Virginia Phillips of Everett, four grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
The family suggests memorial contributions be made to the Woodinville Repertory Theatre, P.O. Box 2003, Woodinville, WA 98072.