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Remembering Phyllis Ben

Everyone at Barnard is deeply saddened by the recent death of Mrs. Phyllis Ben, a beloved member of the campus community for nearly half a century.  Phyllis arrived at Barnard in 1962 and retired from her regular position as Head Guard forty-eight years later in 2010, making her one of the longest standing members of the staff ever to serve the College. She even chose to remain an on-call guard at Barnard until her death on June 7th.  

Phyllis became a member of Public Safety when few women worked in security positions, either at the College or elsewhere.  Her outgoing, optimistic personality made her a favorite among our students, and it was to them, in particular, that she was extraordinarily devoted.  She was fiercely proud to be Irish, proud to be a New Yorker, and proud to be a member of the Barnard community.   In recognition of her extraordinary contribution to the College, upon her retirement in 2010 the security booth at Broadway and 117th Street was dedicated to Phyllis.   She was the natural choice to speak on behalf of the entire staff at President Spar's 2008 inauguration, and she did so with enthusiasm, humor, and that special spark that endeared her to us all.  She will be dearly missed.

Below is the full text of Phyllis' remarks at President Spar's inauguration.

Also, read a 1991 New York Times article about her generous financial contribution to Barnard.

 

Inauguration of Debora Spar
October 23, 2008
Representing Barnard College's Staff: Phyllis Ben

     I’m Phyllis Ben and it is quite an honor and a privilege to be here today in this great place and to bring you greetings from the staff of the College. And I want to welcome you, President Spar, to the wonderful community that I have known and loved for 46 years – for almost half a century. Yes, I arrived at Barnard in 1962… might I add, before you were even born.

    I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, or most minutes of it, I should say!

    I’m from Ireland. Tipperary, in fact. Yes… it’s a long way to Tipperary. I came to the states in the early 50’s – married with two children. I heard they were hiring at Barnard so I came and got my first job here in housekeeping.

    A few years later, I heard they were hiring in security. Ray Boylan was the director and he’d just hired a female guard. So I thought, why not? I got a full-time security job in the library and I enjoyed it immensely. I had contact with the students and I loved that. They always shared with me what was going on in their lives. It felt very special to know that.

    I met so many students then… I’m still friends with them today. They’re Barnard alumnae, professional people. I’m proud to know them. And I have seen Barnard become, for me, a more down-to-earth place. It’s a lovely atmosphere to be in. Why do you think I’ve stayed here so long?

    I remember the ’68 riots. And I remember in the early ‘80’s when Columbia went co-ed. Oh, I was worried. I was worried that it would hurt Barnard. But it didn’t. It made Barnard stronger.

    Listen, I’ve been here since Rosemary Park. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve met a lot of important people who made an impression. But it’s mostly the students I think about. I love them – on both sides of the street. They’re why we’re here. We should all remember that.

    And I’m real pleased that you, President Spar, are making special time for them. I read an article in the Barnard Bulletin about how you’re having office hours – and I know you’re real busy – to talk personally to them. I think that’s beautiful. That’s very important. I’m from the old school, not the new school. When you give respect you get respect.

    When I heard we were going to have a new president I asked Mary Gordon – she’s a friend of mine, you know – I asked Mary, I said “is this a good president for Barnard” and Mary said to me, “Yes it is, Phyllis. She’ll be very good for Barnard.”

    So, I’ll finish with this special Irish blessing for you, President Spar.  ... May the wind be always at your back. Thank you for letting me be here and good luck to you. I hope you have as great a time as I’m having.