Editorial note: In the early 1990s, Natalie Phillips worked for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle as a crime and court reporter and editor.
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Natalie Kay Phillips died Sept. 11, 2007, in Anchorage, Alaska, yet another of too many women who have succumbed to breast cancer. She was 50.
A celebration of Ms. Phillips' life will be from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Hilltop Ski Chalet in Anchorage.
Ms. Phillips was born June 20, 1957, in a small Indiana town, and the far-flung adventures and successes that came her way were all a great surprise. She considered her awakening to have taken place at age 19 when she landed in Missoula. She took seven years to finish a journalism degree at The University of Montana, taking breaks for extended bicycle trips, including a year wandering across Europe. Along the way, she supported herself by picking potatoes, harvesting wine grapes and working as a plongeur (dishwasher) in France. She studied languages at the University of Salamanca, Spain, and Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City.
After college, Ms. Phillips landed her first newspaper job in Vail, Colo., where she began creating a life that combined journalism and backcountry adventure. She marked her 26th birthday by running her first marathon -- the first of many endurance events and backcountry marathons she took on over the years, including the Pikes Peak in Colorado, the Bridger Ridge Run in Bozeman and Crow Pass in Alaska.
She delighted in several years of skiing, dancing and soaking her way through a maze of small ski areas and vintage hot springs in the Rockies with a Montana cowboy. She loved to knit, sew, can and cook, and her love of travel led her to many parts of the world, including Africa, Thailand and Chile.
Her attraction to journalism stemmed from a fierce desire to tell true stories. She was a gifted researcher, with the ability to ferret out small but important details and to give voice to multiple sides of a story. In Colorado Springs, Colo., she wrote an investigative series on the finances of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and in another, she followed on the heels of the "Gentleman Bandit" bank robber. Other stories took her to Honduras with the National Guard and on aerial maneuvers with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds in an F-14.
In 1991, she joined the staff of the Anchorage Daily News, reporting on science and environmental issues, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation. She also worked as a freelance stringer for The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time. She received numerous journalism awards and, in 2002, was awarded a Ted Scripps Fellowship in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
In 1999, Ms. Phillips gave birth to her son, Dashiell "Dash" Robertson Phillips. Being Dash's mother was unquestionably the single most important accomplishment of her life, and she helped him learn how to move through the world with kindness, curiosity and humor. She worked to expand his horizons, leading him on many adventures such as rafting wild rivers, dog mushing, exploring the West by train and preparing food for homeless shelters. Together she and Dash took on a multitude of building projects, including a major addition to their home. Nothing made her happier than to see her bright, inquisitive son throw back his head and laugh.
Ms. Phillips approached her cancer with characteristic drive and inspirational grace. She was quick to share with others in need the results of her exhaustive research. Even as her cancer progressed, she helped produce the documentary "The Quiet War," which profiles women facing advanced breast cancer.
Ms. Phillips is survived by her son, Dash, 7; mother, Marcia Phillips of Winchester, Ind.; sisters, Peggy Phillips of Cambria, Calif., and Jean Phillips of Fremont, Calif.; and brothers, Peter Phillips of Redondo Beach, Calif., Jack Phillips of Winchester, Ind., and Matt Phillips of Mountain View, Calif.
She asked that friends and family look in on Dash from time to time to help ensure he spends much of his life laughing and smiling.
In lieu of flowers, she also asked that friends send photos and stories for Dash's memory scrapbook to her sister, Jean Phillips, at email@example.com.
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Sept. 15, 2007