Phyllis Ann Gilkison Conrey
Born in Denver, Colorado on November 18th, 1931
Departed on August 12th, 2020 and resided in Loveland, Colorado
Phyllis Ann Gilkison Conrey, 88, died peacefully on August 12, 2020, with her family keeping vigil. A mother lion to her children, a successful career woman, and a great cook and party hostess, Phyllis was the strongest, bravest person most of us will know, raising her four children alone from the age of 31, when her US Navy pilot husband and the love of her life, James Richard “Rick” Conrey, was tragically killed in a plane crash. She left believing that he would be there on the other side waiting for her and knowing that her family loved her deeply.
Phyllis Ann Gilkison Conrey was born on November 18, 1931 in Denver, Colorado, the older daughter of Luella Gilkison (née Holland) and Warren Gilkison, a mining engineer. When she was born, her parents were grieving the recent loss of her two older brothers and considered naming her Dolores, for sadness. Instead, they chose a name that reminded them of “Feliz,” for happiness and the hope of a better future. Phyllis’ younger sister Kathleen was born 4 years later. Warren’s job took him all over the world, and Phyllis spent parts of her childhood in Mexico and the Philippines.
The family settled in Denver after Warren’s untimely death, and there Luella eventually married Fred Peterson, a dentist with two sons, Joe and Jim. Jim was in Phyllis’s class at school, and the two were close throughout their lives. Fred was “Papa” to Phyllis, and also came to be one of her closest friends and a great influence to her. Phyllis graduated from East High School in Denver in 1949 and matriculated with a scholarship to Mill’s College in Oakland, CA. After a year there, she enrolled at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she met her future husband and the love of her life, James Richard “Rick” Conrey.
Phyllis and Rick married on January 2, 1953, and Rick, who had been in the NROTC at Colorado, graduated and joined the Navy. The couple moved to Pensacola for flight training school as Rick became a pilot. Their first child, Kathleen Mary, was born there on October 30, 1953. Shortly thereafter, Phyllis and Rick moved to Guam, where Rick was flying into typhoons to study them. John Brian was born there in 1955, then Michael Warren came along two years later when Rick was stationed at Alameda Naval Air Station, and finally Ann Therese was born in 1961 in Albuquerque when Rick was at Sandia Base.
After Rick was killed in a plane crash off the USS Independence in the Mediterranean on September 19, 1963, Phyllis bravely took on the task of supporting and raising their four children. They moved to Denver for a year and lived with the family of Frances Steighner, then settled in Albuquerque in 1964. Phyllis took a job as a secretary at Montezuma Elementary School in Albuquerque for a time, then eventually became an insurance agent for John Hancock and for Penn Mutual. She received many awards as a successful agent, and she became the first female CLU in New Mexico.
After retiring in 1988, Phyllis moved to Sun Lakes, Arizona, to be near her step-brother Jim Peterson. She lived there until two years ago, then, after moving back to Albuquerque for a short time, moved to Loveland, Colorado, to be near her son Michael and his family. Family was everything to her, and she stayed close with her children and built wonderful relationships with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Always ready for any social occasion, she kept everyone around her on their toes as an expert conversationalist, bridge player, and word-game enthusiast. She never remarried, telling her grandchildren that no man could fill Rick’s shoes.
Phyllis is survived by her sister, Kathleen Gilkison Yuricic (Knoxville, TN); her step-brother, James “Jim” Peterson (Sun Lakes, AZ); and her four children and their spouses: Kathleen (“Kit”) Conrey Desjacques and Jean-Claude Desjacques (Suresnes, France), John “Brian” Conrey and Janet Bell Conrey (San Martin, CA), Michael Conrey and Beth Herbst Conrey (Berthoud, CO), and Ann Conrey Schwend and Ronald Schwend (Helena, MT). She also leaves behind eleven grandchildren — Brianna, Peter, Jennifer, Frank, Rick, Kate, Patrick, Michael, Christopher, Hallie, and Gregor; and four great-grandchildren, Andrew, Alex, Lucas, and Warren, and was looking forward to welcoming two more great grandchildren. Her ashes will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery sometime in the future, and her family will fulfill her wish of celebrating her life with a cocktail party and a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”