Remembering Phyllis Marchand
Last Thursday March 25, 2021, we lost a dear Board Member of Mercer Council, Phyllis Marchand. She has been a fixture in Mercer Council's 40+ year history, being a Board Member for 26 years who held various offices within the Board during this time. She was the longest standing Board member who witnessed the transformation Mercer Council has gone through both internally in the leadership of the organization as well as externally with the evolving substance misuse prevention landscape.
I am honored to compose our celebration of Phyllis' life. I have had the privilege to know her over the past 15 years that I have served on the Mercer Council team. She was always the one who stayed behind after Board meetings or events to chat with staff and leadership at the Council. She was one of the Board members to be present at various meetings and events hosted by the Council -- we could always count on her! Her commitment to the field of substance misuse prevention shone through with her diligence in being an active member of the Board until the very end.
Her genuine care and concern for the Council in the way she expressed delight in the accomplishments of the Council over the years is fresh in my mind. She had the gift of encouraging each staff, by establishing a personal relationship, by learning about their family and interests, not just about the work they did for the organization. Phyllis was the former Mayor of Princeton, but she never prided herself over that. She was a humble person. Personally, she always made it a point to ask me about my family and how I was navigating my responsibilities at the Council, carrying the legacy of my mother-in-law Geetha Arulmohan, who passed on to glory almost 4 years ago now, who led the agency during a very crucial period in its history. She always had words of support and encouragement to me as a working mother and leader outside the home. In recent months, during our phone conversations, she always reminded me to journal the experiences navigating the pandemic with my young daughters, so that we can look back at this time in history years from now. It exemplifies her positive outlook on life and her attitude of learning to thrive, even from the tough situations in life. While she was going through the hard reality of battling cancer herself, she never let that take over her will to stay positive and strong. She always reflected on the good things in life. She was tired, but I do not remember her even once sounding discouraged or defeated. She fought till the very end and lived an impactful life! These are some of the many memories that I will always remember and cherish.
Following are some of the reflections of our staff and Board of Phyllis and her impact in their lives:
Amy: “I never had an opportunity to really get to know her but whenever I was in her presence she always made sure she said ‘hello’ and asked how I was doing and asked how my program was. She left you feeling good and that what you were doing mattered. She was truly a remarkable person.”
Barbara: “Phyllis was a kind, sincere and vibrant person. I enjoyed our conversations before Board meetings and at Board/Staff functions. I know I will miss her, as will many others.”
Deb: “Phyllis is wonderful woman. Her kindness, courage and optimism remain an inspiration to all of us. She is an exceptional human being… a civic leader, a loving wife and mother, an athlete and a kind and thoughtful friend. Phyllis has been a gift to this organization and all that have been privileged to have her in their lives. She was such a confident, caring woman, always willing to share thoughtful insight. I will always remember the gentle insight she shared with me, as a mom-to-be, concerned about balancing a career and motherhood. She was comforting and sincere. We are blessed to have known her and will miss her dearly.”
Gregory: “Growing up in Princeton, Phyllis Marchand was a legend. She was beautiful and an avid health and wellness guru. I recall many days passing her as she jogged up and down Nassau street. She made working out appear glamorous. As I became older I learned of her advocacy for human rights and her particular commitment to fair treatment for the disadvantaged and people of color. It will be hard to imagine life without her but she leaves this world at a great time to continue her legacy.”
Jocelyn: “She was so warm and comforting and really genuinely invested in people. I felt like she really cared, not only about the agency, but each one of us, and outside of the roles we played for the agency. She really seemed to care about us as people. After our first annual fundraiser…I spent probably close to 40 minutes talking with her privately. She was wonderful. That was the first time I had such an extended conversation with her not about Mercer Council. We talked about so many things, from sports, to life to family. I will never forget her. She would always pull me aside and just ask personally how I was doing and what else was going on in my life. She showed up and supported our events, meetings, etc., despite undergoing treatments and medical complications. She was so genuine and authentic. I am so honored that she chose to spend so much of her life with Mercer Council, as she was a very busy woman and involved in so many important causes. I am inspired by how much she cared about this world and making it a better place for everyone and how she led by her connection with others and her care for them. This is a huge loss, not only to Mercer Council, but to the community and her family. We will keep her alive in spirit and in the work that we do.”
Lance: “I knew Phyllis for many years. She was my political running mate for office many times. We sat and had coffee and tea. She would buy little odds and ends for my daughters. I was asked to come on the board by Phyllis. I can honestly say she was " family". She would often talk about the MCADA Board members and staff. How proud she was that after Geetha died the Board and staff was able to keep MCADA moving forward. I am so blessed to have had "Mayor Phyllis Marchand" in my life. There are so many times we take others for granted. Let me say that Phyllis never did. She loved life and appreciated all the friends and relationships she developed.”
Malissa: “I worked with her with League of Women's voters for a few debates I moderated -- I really respected her, and she was always so kind and gracious, and appreciative of people being involved in their communities! At the council, you barely knew she was ill -- often coming to meetings right after a treatment or dialing in -- she even came to our holiday party…I loved her commitment and positive attitude.”
Nora: "One memory I have of Phyllis Marchand goes back to my days as a community educator with the Mercer Council, working to prevent birth defects caused by mothers consuming alcohol while they were pregnant. During this time [1995-1998] Phyllis, as the Mayor of Princeton, issued a proclamation to draw attention to this important issue. I visited Mayor Marchand to accept the proclamation on behalf of the Council. A photo was taken of her handing the proclamation to me to submit to local papers to further increase awareness. Phyllis had a very contagious 'can-do' attitude, which I found encouraging. She was willing to stand up and do what she could to reduce the incidence of preventable birth defects caused by mothers-to-be who drank while pregnant. The day I visited Mayor Marchand, it seemed to me that not many others were concerned with maternal drinking. I needed a boost of encouragement, and Phyllis provided it!"
Vanessa: “I remember talking to her at the MC open house a few years back and she was so friendly and personable.”
Phyllis and Geetha (2003)
At the grand opening of Mercer Council’s new home (2013)
Phyllis and her husband Sy at Council’s holiday dinner (2013)
Phyllis and Lance at Mercer Council Fundraiser (2019)
A beautiful, caring, compassionate, invested, dedicated, intentional, genuine, authentic human. Mercer Council is so fortunate to have had someone as wonderful as Phyllis, supporting our agency for so many years. This is a wound that will be very difficult to heal, as she is truly one of a kind and irreplaceable. We are all better as a result of our connection with Phyllis. We will keep her spirit alive in our work. Sending love and prayers to her family during this very difficult time.
What beautiful memories to honor such a beautiful person! Her impact on our communities in Mercer County will continue to be felt for years to come! She will be missed so much, but we are all so glad we knew and worked with her. My heartfelt sympathies to her family during this time of loss and celebration of her life.