Former Bibb County school board member Betty Phillips dies

Former Bibb County School Board member and retired educator Betty Phillips died early Friday morning after battling lung cancer.
Former Bibb County School Board member and retired educator Betty Phillips died early Friday morning after battling lung cancer. The Telegraph

Former Bibb County educator and school board member Betty Phillips died Friday.

Phillips, 88, died of lung cancer at Coliseum Northside Hospital before 4 a.m., Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said.

"Another good leader has gone on," Jones said.

Phillips, a Democrat, sat on the school board for eight years between 1994 and 2002, when she decided not to run for re-election.

The former Lanier and Central high school teacher always had a smile on her face, said Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Gary Bechtel, who served two years with Phillips on the board.

"I loved her to death. She was authentic. She was honest and had a great sense of humor," said Bechtel, who enjoyed running into her at Barnes & Noble, where they shared a passion for books.

"She had a real love for the Bibb County school system and those who educated our children," said Bechtel, who considered Phillips a mentor. "I'm very sad. She was a wonderful woman."

Lynn Farmer, who succeeded Phillips on the board, issued the following statement about the former Teacher of the Year: "I admired Betty so much. She represented, to me, everything that was good about public service. On civil rights and women's rights, she was ahead of her time."

Farmer said Phillips was like a mother to her.

"It was never about politics with Betty. It was always about doing the right thing. ... I am going to miss her so much," Farmer said.

Retired Macon police homicide detective Jimmy Barbee singled out Phillips as his favorite teacher of all time.

He remembers the red-headed educator as a "spitfire" who taught him one of the most valuable lessons of his life while he was a teenager at Lanier in the mid-'60s.

"She made me realize what life was really like. It's not a bed of flowers," Barbee said.

When he happened upon her having lunch at Molly's in downtown Macon, he secretly paid her tab.

The ensuing thank-you note she penned remained in his desk drawer until his retirement last summer.

"She was not a pushover. You weren't going to run over her. She didn't sugarcoat things." Barbee said. "She made me realize there's more to life than having fun every day."

While first running for office in 1994, Phillips took her Republican opponent to task for home-schooling his children and having divided loyalties.

She had this to say during her first campaign as she pushed for smaller student-teacher ratios and better remedies for discipline problems that distracted principals from focusing on ineffective teachers.

"This is a time when children are struggling with identity," she told The Telegraph. "It's a time when we should teach them how to settle down and learn and place them in leadership roles."

Phillips thought politics stymied the school board.

"The most unpolitical place should be the school system, and yet it's the most political," she said in that 1994 newspaper interview.

Current Bibb County school board member Daryl Morton said Phillips was a role model who encouraged him to run.

"Macon will miss Betty Phillips deeply. Her contributions to the community will be felt for generations," Morton said in a statement.

Hart's Mortuary has charge of arrangements.

Information from The Telegraph archives was used this report. To contact Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.