Lillian Mary-Margaret Phipps died peacefully on Aug. 13 after a short illness, less than 20 minutes after Father Anton delivered her final blessing. She was 91.
Born in Berlin, N.H. in 1929, she was the sixth of Joseph and Delia Croteau’s 12 children. Along with her seven surviving siblings, Lillian, “Papère” and “Mamère” moved to Portsmouth, N.H., where Joseph worked at the U.S. naval shipyard.
As a young woman in 1952, Lillian was working at Bell Telephone Co. before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. She served as a weather specialist at Wheeler Air Force Base near Honolulu, HI. In 1954, at 27, Lillian considered herself an old maid who assumed she’d never have children. Then, at Hickum Field, she met Benjamin Phipps, a man four years her junior, and began a love affair that lasted more than 65 years.
Returning to the U.S. in late 1955, Ben traveled by bus across the country to marry Lillian in front of her family and then return with her to his native California -- in her car, of course. Initially settling in Ben’s hometown of Delano, the newlyweds quickly relocated to Bakersfield where they started their family in 1957 with oldest son Steven, named after one of Lillian’s childhood crushes. Her beloved sons Richard and Ronald followed in 1958 and 1961, respectively. Her last child, Robert, was a surprise eight years later when Lillian was 40.
A full-time mother during the day, Lillian held a mail sorter’s job at the U.S. Post Office at night through 1977 to help support the family, while Ben – now a general contractor – worked to build their newfound property management business, Five-Star Enterprises.
In 1990, the couple acquired the old Rancho Bakersfield Motel at the north end of F Street in Bakersfield. While Ben experimented in the kitchen with new recipes and dishes, Lillian acted as chief financial officer and operations manager day-to-day, keeping the books and ensuing payroll for the sprawling, 243-room motel.
Above all, Lillian cherished her role as a wife and mother, along with all the traditions it entailed. Her sweet tooth -- for pastries in particular -- drove her love of baking wonderful pecan pies and cheesecakes during the winter holidays. She always made time to help her children with their homework and was there to make sure they said their prayers every night.
By 2010, and now semi-retired, she turned her focus to cheating at cribbage each day, while scrutinizing the other players to ensure they weren’t doing likewise. Her Depression-era upbringing imprinted on her character the indelible virtue of thriftiness, which is a nice way of saying she could turn coal into diamonds just by holding onto it a little longer.
Lillian is survived by her forever love and companion of nearly 65 years, Benjamin, as well as sons Steven, Richard, Ronald and Robert Phipps; daughters-in-law Michelle and Alison Phipps, grandchildren Randy and Ryan Phipps, as well as four siblings.
The Phipps family is forever grateful to Lillian’s caretakers, Isabelle Garcia, Babelyn Samote and Marilyn Naz, as well as: Dr. Sam Ratnayake; Nadean Bachinski and Gagandeet Singh with Hoffman Hospice and; Father Anton with St. Francis Catholic Church.
A viewing will be open from 1-5 p.m. Thursday, August 20 at Doughty-Calhoun-O'Meara Funeral Home, 1100 Truxtun Avenue. Graveside services will be held at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 21 at Greenlawn Southwest Cemetery, 2739 Panama Lane in Bakersfield. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Catholic Charities’ program Food for the Poor.
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