Phyllis Berdt Kenevan, professor of philosophy, mother, grandmother, wife, world traveler, dancer, artist and friend, passed away quietly in the early hours of December 31, 2013 surrounded by loving family and friends in her home in Palo Alto California. Phyllis was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on January 25, 1927, the second of three children born to David and Mona Berdt. She graduated with a BA and MA from the University of Minnesota, attended the Sorbonne in Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship and was the first woman to receive a PhD in Philosophy from Northwestern University. She was a professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder from 1960 to 1997, and was known and celebrated as a committed teacher and mentor to her students. She was a true intellectual and well-published expert on Existentialism - but one who knew at a deep, intuitive level the limitations of pure intellect. She understood and appreciated the minds of Kirkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Heidegger and Jung, but was equally fascinated with the spiritualism of David Gurdjieff and the Sufi mystics. And in the end it was the heart of Dostoevsky that she loved the best. She was a world citizen fascinated by diversity and difference. In her youth she was drawn to France, and after completing her studies in Paris she returned to teach in Bordeaux. In her later years she traveled widely in Europe, Asia and the Middle East and spent time as a visiting scholar at the Jung Institute in Zurich. She was a passionate and effortlessly elegant lover of life and romantic. Everything looked good on her and she never took a bad photograph. Trained in classical ballet and a dancer by nature, she was a lifelong music lover and folk dancer and a regular feature at the Taverna and the James Pub. Through two marriages and many loves, great and small, she left a legacy of fondness and friendship. Her home was a crazy salon and refuge for a diverse crowd of multi-ethnic international characters. She loved the creative and the unusual, and on any given day the house was full of eccentric friends and philosophers, lost graduate students, homeless foreign exchange students, friends (and friends of friends) of her children, relatives in crisis, and anyone else with an open heart and mind who needed a place to stay (for an hour or a month). Her annual Christmas dinner was a thing of legend - packing the house with Christians and Jews, Buddhists and Mystics, Existentialists, Gnostics, Elderly Neighbors, Veterinarians, Loving Students, Airline Pilots, Ex-Husbands and Boyfriends and anyone else who needed a place to be, a great meal and a big, chaotic conversation. She was passionately committed to political, social and economic equality for all people and a tireless advocate for progressive politics. She treated everyone as a unique and uniquely valuable individual but never doubted our collective responsibility for one-another. She fought many a good but hopeless fight, armed only with her unwavering conviction and her scratchy old album of Lincoln Brigade marching songs. She was a skillful artist whose sketches and paintings celebrate her love of family and of the diversity and beauty of the human experience. She often painted people and places she had seen in her travels, and leaves behind a body of work that captures the essence of the subject imbued with her own joy in painting it. Above all she cherished deep relationships. She created a feeling of family in her friendships, and was mother/sister of the heart for many a student and friend. To her own family she was the absolute core - an intuitive mother and grandmother who brought out and celebrated the best in everyone. Her only agenda for her children and grandchildren was happiness, and she created a world of unconditional love that will survive her and remain as her most precious gift to her family and closest friends. She is survived by her sister Delores and brother Arnie, her son Peter, her daughter Bridget, her grandchildren Meg, Bodhi and Yuki and her daughter in spirit Ann Miller. A memorial service will be held in Boulder in spring, with further details to be noticed as they become available. In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made "in honor of Phyllis Kenevan" to Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, 4869 North Broadway, Boulder, CO 80304.
Published in The Boulder Daily Camera on Jan. 7, 2014