For the love of Carolyn

Sixty years after the death of her daughter, Beryl Phillips is working to ensure children with Down syndrome receive the support they need


From left to right, Barbara Roblin of DragonFly; Beryl Phillips, Carolyn’s mother; Grace Xin of the Ottawa Community Foundation. Photo Credit Kita Szpak

When Carolyn Phillips was born with Down syndrome in 1948, her first-time parents had few options to help her.

Her father, Ray Phillips was a naval officer and constant moving was part of family life — difficult for Carolyn, who thrived in a stable and familiar environment. So at age two, Carolyn entered an institution in Orillia where the lack of care resulted in a confrontation between her mother, Beryl Phillips, and the head doctor. It was only after Carolyn was transferred to a facility in Smiths Falls that the importance of physical contact for the young girl was acknowledged and embraced, her mother says.

Carolyn Phillips. Photo Courtesy Beryl Phillips

“For an extroverted and boisterous child like Carolyn who loved people around her, companionship was crucial with lots of familial support,” says Phillips.

Carolyn died in 1960 at age 12, but more than six decades later, her legacy lives on thanks to her mother, who went on to enlist the help of the Ottawa community to find organizations that assist individuals with Down syndrome.

Now 100, Beryl Phillips has never forgotten the challenges she encountered in trying to find suitable support for Carolyn, and for this reason was determined to help families who are experiencing the same challenges today.

 The memory of Carolyn now lives on through a fund that has been established within the Ottawa Community Foundation and has benefited organizations like DragonFly, a program of The School of Dance that offers individualized programs in the areas of academics, movement and dance, outdoor education, and visual arts for learners of all ages with Down syndrome.

Barbara Roblin, director of education at DragonFly, says that advancements in care and medicine from what was understood and practiced over 60 years ago are like night and day.

“Mrs. Phillips and her husband loved Carolyn,” Roblin says, “and wanted to do the best they could for her… The families I meet today want the best for their son or daughter too. The difference today is that no doctor would recommend institutionalization. Parents expect their son or daughter to attend school, perhaps have a job and be part of the community.”

Phillips and The School of Dance have established the Carolyn Phillips Legacy Awards, which will ensure that families in the Ottawa area have access to the specialized support they need to raise a child with Down syndrome with confidence and joy, by lightening the financial burden so many families are experiencing.

Simply loving Carolyn as the person she was — transfixed by a Sears Catalogue or washing the car with windows wide open, those are the memories that Phillips wants everyone to know about. “Her life was short on this earth,” her mother says, “but her precious soul lives on with unique meaning.”