Cover photo for Phyllis Lorraine Campbell Alexander's Obituary
Phyllis Lorraine Campbell Alexander Profile Photo

Phyllis Lorraine Campbell Alexander

December 10, 1928 — December 1, 2020

Phyllis Lorraine Campbell was born on December 10, 1928 in Nashville, Tennessee, the fifth of nine children born to the late Wilma Coffey and Emmett C. Campbell. She spent her formative years in Nashville, then moved with her family to Bremerton, Washington where her father worked as an electrical engineer for the Navy during World War II. She graduated from Bremerton High School and attended Tennessee State University from 1946-1949, joining the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in 1948. Phyllis transferred to Howard University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy in 1953. As a Registered Pharmacist, in the District of Columbia, with reciprocal registration in 46 states, she began her career at Colbert’s Pharmacy, which was owned by her sister, Alberta, and brother-in-law, Frank Colbert, both of whom were pharmacists.

Phyllis had a fiercely independent streak and was not limited by others' subjective constraints about what a woman's role in life should be. After completing graduate courses in the field of Cellular and Molecular Biology at the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, Maryland, Phyllis was among the first wave of professional Black women to work for NIH in 1956. During her 17 year tenure, she held several positions including: Research Chemist, in the National Institute of Mental Health; Chief, Basic Sciences Section (Physiology, Enzymology, and Biochemistry); Director of the Office of Women's Concerns; Biomedical Information Specialist; and Special Assistant to the Branch Chief, National Cancer Institute. While at NIH, Phyllis researched and published several papers in peer-reviewed journals. She was particularly proud of the research she conducted with Dr. L. Sokoloff and her participation in activities related to minority concerns.

On March 20, 1973, Phyllis married Dr. Joseph Lee Alexander and joined him in Los Angeles, California, where he served as Chairman of Surgery at Charles Drew Hospital and Chief of Surgery at Martin Luther King Hospital in South Central Los Angeles. At that time, she became involved in various community organizations, where she continued to be an advocate for women, children and young minority men. In 1981, Phyllis was the recipient of the YMCA Martin Luther King, Jr. Brotherhood Award for her tireless leadership as a Co-Founder and Former Board Chairperson of the Alleyne Center for Girls and Women, which was dedicated to preparing participants for rewarding lives. With Phyllis' leadership, the Center empowered young girls by exposure to positive role models, careers and the fundamental tools such as building self-esteem and self-confidence to gain employment. Additionally, as a member of The Angel City Chapter of Links, Inc. Phyllis was instrumental in raising money and procuring scholarships for The Links’ Achiever Program, a signature program which began in 1981, to mentor and award college scholarships to high school male seniors. She was an effective fundraiser for other organizations as well, and served as a member of the Metropolitan YMCA’s Urban Affairs Committee, conducting the first Affirmative Action Workshop for the Administrative Staff of the Los Angeles YMCA in 1975. Phyllis was later appointed to the Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women by Mayor Tom Bradley.

Phyllis led a rich, full life as a trailblazing woman of science and advocate of social justice; her's was truly a "life well-lived". She was an avid reader, art enthusiast and traveled extensively. She enjoyed sailing, skiing (which she did into her 60s) and playing tennis (which she did into her 70s). She thrived on exchanging stimulating, thought-provoking, and sometimes radical ideas with friends and family. Late in life at assisted living facilities, she often sought out the people she felt were the most conversant on a range of topics. Even in her 90s she constantly kept up with world events and discussed their implications. When people asked, “Who could have imagined a COVID-19 pandemic?” Phyllis responded, “I did.”

With numerous academic and professional accomplishments and memberships, perhaps Phyllis’ highest calling was her commitment to her close-knit family; supplying comfort, support and assistance when faced with challenges large and small, and simply "being present" in a variety of ways to encourage all to live their lives on their own terms. She had a very close relationship with her nieces and nephews, who admired her intellect and independent spirit. Her nieces wanted to be just like her, and her nephews respected and adored her. She was particularly close to her nephew Carlton H. Petway, Jr. who served as her champion during her declining health. She passed December 1, 2020 at age 91.
Phyllis is survived by her brother, James D. (Bernice D.) Campbell; sister Patsy C. Petway; sisters-in-law, Eunice D. Campbell and Rose C. Busby; nephews, Craig C. Colbert, Carlton H. Petway, Jr., and Patrick C. Petway; nieces, Aquilla D. White, Beverly M. Wilcox, Pamela A. Busby, Gail C. Busby, Suzanne A. Busby, Rhonda C. Culver, Jill C. Trent, and Jennifer C. Preston. She is also survived by many great-nephews, great-nieces, cousins, and close friends. In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by her husband, Dr. Joseph L. Alexander; brothers, Henry W. Campbell and Calvin C. Campbell; sisters, Irene C. Latting, Alberta C. Colbert, Dr. Kathryn C. Mitchell, and Doris C. Busby.
In adherence to Phyllis’ scientific beliefs, the family has chosen to have a private family burial. A Celebration of Life will be announced at a future date.

In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes contributions to the following organizations:
1. St. Luke CME Church. (Please specify Second Harvest Food Bank/Alexander on memo line.) 2008 Ed Temple Blvd., Nashville, TN 37208. 615-256-5446
2. Nashville Rescue Mission, 639 Lafayette St., Nashville, TN 37203 (Phyllis C. Alexander on memo line) 615-255-2475
3. Parkinson’s Foundation, 1-800-473-4636 (Phyllis C. Alexander on memo line)

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