“Later in life, Phyllis faced a diagnosis of cancer with the same composure and hope that saw her through previous challenges.”
Phyllis Ryan Fisher was born December 19, 1947, in Toronto, Ontario. Her mother was a loving and resourceful woman who, during those postwar years, either cared for Phyllis herself or left her in the care of wonderful people who “adopted” her into their families. Although Phyllis was an only child, the “moms,” “dads” and “sisters” she collected along the way enriched her life and helped mould her into the lady she grew to be. This small-town girl loved the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario where she grew up, especially her beloved Coboconk (or “Coby” as the locals call it). She never forgot the friends who loved and believed in her during that time of her life.
But Phyllis also experienced the profound effects of rejection and abandonment. She learned that rejection sends a message to the core of who we are, causing us to believe lies about ourselves, others and God. Someone’s harsh word becomes a label. The label becomes a lie, and the lie becomes a liability that affects how we think about ourselves and how we interact in every future relationship.
Thankfully, at the tender age of eight, Phyllis experienced the love of God. She was alone in her room reading her Bible when her heart heard God say He would never reject her. She felt embraced by a love that would never let go.
At the age of 17, Phyllis enrolled at Eastern Pentecostal Bible College, where she spent three wonderful years and made many lifelong friends. The tributes that poured in following her death testified to the way Phyllis welcomed people into her life and loved them as family.
Soon after college in 1968, while preparing to marry Bruce Fisher, Phyllis was struck with a serious illness. She asked to be released from hospital the night before her wedding, and after a couple of days honeymooning in Niagara Falls returned to a rigorous schedule of kidney dialysis. Eventually, Phyllis received a kidney from an unknown donor. The family of a girl killed in a car accident in Toronto contributed the gift of life to an unknown, critically ill recipient. They probably never knew that their gift kept Phyllis alive and in excellent renal health for over 30 years—one of Canada’s longest living transplant recipients. Phyllis told her story often in order to encourage organ donation and to inspire those needing a transplant to hold on to hope.
Phyllis’s post-transplant journey defied every prediction of her dedicated team of doctors. They suggested she would always need to live close to the health support of the medical community in Toronto. She was told she could never be a mother or take on the responsibilities of a career. In fact, because organ transplant science was a relatively new development, she was cautioned not to expect to live for many more years.
Not only was Phyllis able to leave her caring medical community in Toronto, but she ended up moving to Kingston, Ont.; Lyttleton, Saint John and Moncton, N.B.; Montreal, Que.; and finally to Edmonton, Alta. She shared her life and love with congregations in all these places and gained innumerable friends along the way. Working alongside Bruce in pastoral ministry, she became an encourager-in-chief to many young people, led Bible studies, taught Sunday school, and counselled. During her time in Moncton, she and Mrs. Bailey, a French-speaking friend, led evangelistic Bible studies on the Gaspé coast. Two French-speaking churches were planted as a result of those Bible studies. Phyllis went on to become a respected preacher. She was recognized by her denomination with ordination and later in life served as a chaplain in Sylvan Lake and Ponoka, Alta.
In 1972, Phyllis and Bruce adopted their son, Shawn. Phyllis’s gifts as a mom were evident immediately. Three years later they welcomed their daughter, Robyn, into the family. Phyllis took charge of her home and welded their four lives—unrelated by blood—into the loving family she presided over until her death.
With equal enthusiasm, she embraced the arrivals of grandsons Kaiden and Ryland, and granddaughters Hailey and Hannah. No one could have imagined this family would come to be, glued together by the love of this extraordinary lady who was beset by illness most of her life.
When Bruce was sidelined by illness for many years, Phyllis took it in stride and fashioned a career in chaplaincy. Her association with wonderful supervisors and fellow students equipped her to become a guide and encourager to many people in health institutions and prison facilities. While balancing both home and career, and still addressing medical challenges, Phyllis also pursued and obtained a master’s degree in her field.
It was during this time that a fellow professional, Karen McLeod, extended to Phyllis a gift of life. Karen became a living donor by offering one of her own kidneys after Phyllis’s second (original) kidney failed. The Fisher family is forever grateful to Karen.
Later in life, Phyllis faced a diagnosis of cancer with the same composure and hope that saw her through previous challenges. When she asked me to write her memoir for her grandchildren, I agreed without fully understanding the sacred commitment I was making. But how could I, or anyone, say no to Phyllis Fisher? Bruce and Phyllis were pastors to my wife, Jocelyn, in Saint John, N.B., and later to me at Central Tabernacle in Edmonton. In a rare and treasured turnaround, we became their pastors at North Pointe.
Phyllis Fisher will be remembered for her zest for life, and for the deep impact she made on so many people’s lives over the years.
Rev. Bob Jones is senior pastor at North Pointe Community Church in Edmonton, Alta. Copies of Phyllis: Love Never Lets Go are available via www.wordcom.ca or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo © istockphoto.com. This article appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.