Mary Phillips

June 1925 - October 2006

By Cathy Skrypek

Mary Jay Porterfield Phillips is a native Atlantan born in Fulton County in June 1925. As was popular at the time, Mary was named after her father Jay She was raised in Fulton’s West End and lived 46 years in Decatur. It is her desire not to live far from Rich’s. During World War II she followed her Navy husband to Athens, Georgia, Virginia and Key West, Florida, after which they made Atlanta their home.

Mary grew up with her grandmother who quilted while her mother did not. Grandmother instructed Mary when she was a child to “make stitches small enough so the big toe won’t go through”. As a child, Mary learned to hand quilt on grandmother’s quilts and since Grandmother was a perfectionist, Mary laughingly believes that Grandmother removed her stitches.     Grandmother had utility quilts for regular use and “special ones” for Sunday when the preacher visited.

Mary attended Atlanta Commercial High School and married at 17. Her first job was at the McCrory Dime Store in the heart of Atlanta where her salary was 25 cents an hour. She remembers when bread was a nickel a loaf.

Although Mary did not catch on to crochet at the age of six, she taught herself how to quilt when her children were small. Mary continued to quilt while raising her four children: Cecilia, Steve and Tim who live in the Atlanta area, and youngest, Marsha, who lives in Connecticut. She is the proud grandmother of eleven, great-grandmother of three with one more due in June.

Since her grandmother lived to 100 and her mother died one week sort of 100, Mary wants to enjoy life and stays mentally and physically active. At age 52, after her divorce, she attended DeKalb College for accounting and art. Both are used in quilting. Mary is feisty, determined and loves a challenge. As a self-taught quilter, she continues to attend as many classes as possible and is a frequent attendee at our Council retreats and conventions. Mary made me feel welcome at my first Convention and I have never forgotten her charming smile.

Mary learned to swim at age 52 and continues to swim daily. A resident of Philips Tower in Decatur, Mary walks to and from swimming and often visits the elderly on her way home. Food shopping, of course, is done on foot. She walks to the bank and local restaurants. She doesn’t have time to join the swim club as it takes time away from her quilting. She considers quilting an asset to help her live the way she enjoys life. Mary has done Tai Chi for the last 25 years and yoga.

Her mother did somersaults at age 90 and Mary plans to stay as limber and flexible. During the interview she easily sat cross-legged on the sofa and advised me to get started on an exercise program now so I could do the same.

To further challenge her mind, Mary does not use patterns. She uses a picture or idea as her guide. Art quilts are her specialty, however, she loves all quilts. She often hand dyes her fabric. She is one of the remaining founding members of the Yellow Daisy guild along with Joyce Selin when it started at Village Quilt Shop. She was their first Newsletter Editor. She belonged to Gwinnett Quilt Guild for many years. She has taught many young quilters in her Girl Scout Troop, neighborhood, and currently teaches at Philips Tower. She enjoys learning new techniques. Michael James and Yvonne Porcella are her inspiration. Her quilts have been exhibited at Philips Tower and many have been sold. She made a wonderful Christopher Columbus quilt complete with the three captains and ships and takes it to Chastain Park School where she tells the children the story. On occasion, the children tell her the story and repeat it to their friends.

Mary’s quilt studio is in her eighth floor apartment. Her fabric stash fills one closet. She and her Bernina face the window where she watches tennis players and enjoys the garden near the Decatur library. She is in the planning stages of a black and white wallhanging of the two churches seen from that window. Her current project is a beautiful hand appliquéd Nativity wallhanging. Mary quilts morning, noon and night. While traveling around she plans the next quilt.

Granny Mary proudly stated that her Grandson Sean (Steve’s boy) who plays soccer in high school made the varsity team on his first try. Now, whom does he take after?

Mary certainly knows how to enjoy her life through her family, daily activities and, of course, her much loved quilting. Mary, you are quite an inspiration!
April 2002

Please join us in extending our condolences to the family of Mary Phillips, who passed away Saturday evening, October 7, 2006.

October 2006 


Mary was an inspiration to me for years, especially when I was elected President of the North GA Quilt Council in 1990. She was a great help when we reorganized the council and began meeting twice a year in the different areas of GA. I enjoyed the many times we worked together in the GA Quilt Documentation Program. Her sweet smile will be missed by many friends in the quilt world. I loved her dearly.   

Annie Ruth Davis (founder of Allatoona Quilt Guild)