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Abigail Tilton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, speaks at the dedication of a bench in Phyllis Bridges' honor. Below, Chancellor Carine Feyten announces a $500,000 gift at the Celebration of Life. (Photos by Michael Modecki)

Naming, scholarships announced at memorial

Rain may have driven the event indoors, but colleagues and students still gathered to honor the memory of longtime Texas Woman’s faculty member Phyllis Bridges, who passed away April 26.

A bench, given in Bridges’ honor by the Department of Language, Culture, & Gender Studies, sits in Pioneer Circle. The Oct. 28 dedication ceremony originally scheduled to take place outdoors was moved inside the Student Union at Hubbard Hall. A Celebration of Life followed.

“It’s raining because Phyllis wanted it to rain,” Chancellor Carine Feyten said, noting that Bridges never wanted anything done in her name and may have hoped the events would be canceled.

Bridges, Cornaro Professor of English, served Texas Woman’s as a faculty member, administrator, and historian of the university during her 50-year tenure.

Speakers at both the dedication and the memorial commented on Bridges’ love for her students and for the university. Feyten noted that, even from her hospital bed, Bridges was concerned about getting a student through her dissertation. Vivian Casper, a member of the English faculty and Bridges’ friend and colleague for 50 years, spoke of Bridges’ “final act of duty.” Though ill, Bridges attended a dedication ceremony in the Blagg-Huey Library.

TWU alumna Diana Williams called Bridges “my favorite teacher and beloved friend.” Bridges kept in touch with her former students – even doted on them, she said. If students needed money for their children, for groceries or any reason, “Phyllis spoke up,” Williams said. “No one fought for students more.”

In the Celebration of Life that followed, Glenda Brock Simmons spoke of her longtime friendship with Bridges but noted “It was not until she died that I truly realized how her life was directed by her work.” Simmons, TWU vice president emerita for student life, helped sort through Bridges’ things after her death.

“You could not open a drawer or closet without finding something related to work,” Simmons said. Bridges had kept work that her students had done, plans for activities with her students, and more. Even the tool shed held several boxes of research, Simmons said, adding that most of the research was donated to the TWU Libraries.

Scholarships for students

Chancellor Feyten announced that a $500,000 gift from the Sook Family Foundation will name the auditorium in the Student Union in Bridges’ honor and provide scholarships for students in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Sandra M. “Sandy” Sook, who earned her PhD in Rhetoric from Texas Woman’s, said she had retired from teaching, but missed being in a classroom. She took a class from Bridges, who encouraged her to get a degree, and the two developed a close friendship.

“I am still coming to terms with this loss,” Sook said.

Bridges knew of the gift before she died, and though reluctant to have anything in her name, insisted that the scholarships should benefit as many students as possible.

The Dr. Phyllis J. Bridges Arts and Sciences Endowed Scholarship will benefit students pursuing a degree in Dance, Drama, English, History, Multicultural Women’s and Gender Studies, Music, Political Science, Social Work, or Visual Arts.

“She could not pick a favorite,” Feyten said with a smile.