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BIOGRAPHY

Phillips was born in Kingston, Arkansas, USA, on 2 April 1907, to parents Clifford Reed Garton (1872–1907) and Irene Titus (1878–1976). She had five older siblings: Alice Miller (1897–1981), William Charles Garton (1902– 1904), Clarence Henry Garton (1903–1936), Ethel McCombs (1905–2005), and Edith Evelyn Smith (1905–1950). Her father passed away just four months following her birth. Upon his passing, the family moved to Iowa. In 1914, her mother married Charles Frederick Kidder (1886–1941), with whom she had five more children: Helen Nadine Allison (1915–1974), Opal Maxine Kidder (1917–1920), Russell Lewis Kidder (1919–2013), Leland Kidder (1920–1982), and Yvonne Waller (1922–2015).

Phillips completed her high school education in 1926. Subsequently, she earned two bachelor’s degrees in mathematics, psychology, and education from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, in 1930. In 1933, she furthered her education by obtaining a master’s degree in social welfare from the University of Iowa. Despite obtaining a teacher’s certificate and expressing an interest in teaching mathematics, she did not pursue a career in teaching.

During her time at the University of Iowa, she met her future husband, Leonard Stevens Phillips (1908–1968), whom she married on 26 May 1937. The couple had no children. The couple hitchhiked across America together during their vacations. She was employed at the Rock Island Arsenal during World War II. Afterward, she and Leonard relocated to Chicago, where she contributed to the research lab that eventually became the Sherwin Williams Paint Company.

Her husband died of leukemia on 13 February 1968. Upon her retirement, three individuals were hired to assume her responsibilities. Despite officially retiring at the age of 70, she remained active, extending her service to the Wheaton area, where she dedicated her time to the care of both children and elderly adults. She completely retired at the age of 99. At the age of 72, she started publishing books. She wrote 11 books in total; all were autobiographical and contain stories of her life experiences.

In 1971, as she was returning home from the laboratory, a semi-truck collided with her car, forcing its front end into the adjacent lane where it was struck by an oncoming vehicle. Phillips sustained severe injuries, including a split liver, six broken ribs, 12 fractured bones, a broken back, a punctured lung, 13 stitches in her lower lip, an enlarged heart, and extensive internal bleeding. Medical professionals expressed skepticism about Phillips’ chances of survival, and even if she did pull through, they anticipated paralysis from the waist down. However, she made a full recovery in just over a year.

Phillips passed away in Carol Stream, Illinois, USA, on 18 August 2018 at the age of 111 years, 138 days.

RECOGNITION

Her age was validated by LongeviQuest on 10 December 2023.

ATTRIBUTION

* Merle Olive Garton Phillips – Find A Grave

* “Merle Olive Phillips” – Hultgren Funeral Home and Cremation Services

* “Merle Phillips, author and rare Illinois supercentenarian, dies at 111” – Chicago Tribute, 20 August 2018

GALLERY

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