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Friday, January 18, 2013

What Was Dear Abby\'s Most Helpful Advice

Pauline Phillips, who was better known for nearly 60 years as Abigail Van Buren, the author of the syndicated column Dear Abby, died Wednesday in Minneapolis at 94, her syndicate said in a statement.

In an obituary, my colleague Margalit Fox described the column as “a forum for the public discussion of private problems, read by tens of millions of people in hundreds of newspapers around the world.”

Here on The Lede, as well as on The New York Times’s Twitter and Facebook pages, I asked for you to share the wisdom that you thought best exemplified the Dear Abby column. You did not disappoint in what you shared.

The Dear Abby advice that rang truest to many readers who answered our call was also the exchane at the conclusion of the New York Times obituary: her advice for a homeowner worried about a same-sex couple taking residence nearby. Many readers shared variations of this story.

But it wasn’t only Mrs. Phillips’s concise words in defense of gay men and women that endeared her to our respondents. Her words of advice for restaurant guests served by working stiffs were also shared:

Readers additionally had a fond remembrance of the concern showed by Abigail Van Buren for victims of domestic violence, as well as her general relationship advice.

Others saw more ways that Dear Abby dispensed life-saving advice.

Multiple replies, like one by Vanessa Lynch on Faceboo! k, al! so cited the phrase “Please God, I’m only 17!” The quotation comes from the last words of an allegorical Dear Abby column about the dangers to the lives of teen-age drivers.

The weightier life lessons from Dear Abby did not overshadow some of her other tips that were more quotidian, although no less useful. Emily in the comments shared advice from Mrs. Phillips on how to shuffle a deck of cards.

I’m not sure that it’s exactly helpful, but it’s definitely stuck with me for many years. My family and I love to play card games, and quite a few years ago, my dad read in Dear Abby that the best way to ensure the cards are shuffled well is to shuffle at least seven times. To this day, I still shuffle my cards at least seven times… It’s gotten to be a good habi!

She wasn’t the only one to remember that tip, or some of Dear Abby’s other domestic advice.

The domestic advice in Dear Abby also extended to parenting in the face of changing domestic mores. TexasR shared the following in the comments:

I also ! liked the advice for the parents whose daughter was coming to visit with her live-in boyfriend. The parents wanted them to stay in separate bedrooms, since they weren’t married. Abby told them to arrange for separate bedrooms, but ignore the footsteps in the hallway at night.

But a commenter, Larry Hayes, may have shared some of the most useful Dear Abby advice that applies to people of all ages in most situations in life.

Dear Abby taught us the most important if hardest lesson of all: Stop whining!