Even though she battled cancer for more than 30 years, Phyllis McOmber never showed it.
She put her pain aside to help start a community health center on Lanai and to raise funds for nonprofit groups and was a friend and a counselor to others who battled cancer themselves, her friends and family recalled Friday.
"We lost a very wonderful lady," said McOmber's husband, Ron. "She went out very peaceful."
PHYLLIS McOMBER, a founder of Lanai health center
"This is a strong lady. The chemo and the treatment never got her down. If it did, we would never know it," said McOmber in a phone interview.
Phyllis McOmber, 74, died Thursday morning at Lanai Community Hospital, after a long battle with breast, colon and brain cancers. She had been hospitalized since June 19, after doctors determined that she couldn't handle more treatment because she was too weak, her husband said.
Services are tentatively scheduled in a couple of weeks.
Phyllis McOmber's "last push" in the community came to fruition in late 2008 with the opening of the Lanai Community Health Center, said McOmber's daughter, Melissa, of Seattle.
Phyllis McOmber and Jackie Woolsey, the former Lanai public health nurse, worked on their dream of a health center for women on Lanai for more than a decade. The center eventually opened to serve everyone.
Woolsey, who has since retired, said that she and McOmber wanted to make it more convenient for women to get proper health care on Lanai. So the two collaborated, pushed for funding and even toured other health centers across the state to get an idea of what they wanted on Lanai, Woolsey said.
"She was always ready to go," Woolsey said of McOmber. "She was full of ideas. She had lots of ideas."
Even as McOmber battled cancer, she went to visit Woolsey in a care home last year after Woolsey had suffered a stroke.
"I'm going to miss her," Woolsey said. "We always talked on the telephone."
Phyllis McOmber was a Florida native. She and her husband met while she was working on Oahu for the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He was a carpenter.
Phyllis McOmber had already been traveling to Molokai and Lanai as the local homemaking extension agent. In the 1970s, the two moved to Lanai. There, they had their only child, Melissa.
Ron McOmber said that his wife was active in the Lanai Baptist Church and had worked with others to establish a preschool on Lanai where there wasn't one.
"She was so good at working collaboratively with people," her daughter said. "She always saw the best in people and let them know it. She didn't focus on the negative."
Melissa McOmber, who came back home to Lanai to be with her mother when she landed in the hospital, said that her mother would have said that everything she was able to do was because of the help of others.
"Everything she's been able to accomplish in this community is communal. Nothing was just done by her. It was a community effort," said her daughter, a social worker.
Ron McOmber, a vocal Lanai resident, said that the way he and his wife got their points across were like night and day; he has a gruff exterior, while his wife had a special way with words.
"She and I could say the same thing, (but) they would smile at her and curse at me," Ron McOmber recalled.
He remembers that his wife also counseled others who had cancer, often giving them encouragement and advice.
Ron McOmber said that his wife received great care while at Lanai Community Hospital, but he wished that there was a hospice program on the island, so that his wife could have spent her last days at home.
Over the years, Phyllis McOmber garnered many accolades for her work, including being named as one of the "People Who Made a Difference" in The Maui News in 2009, as well as recently receiving the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association's Charity Walk Inspiration Award for going "above and beyond" and best exemplifying "the true spirit of giving."
A donation of $5,000 in her name was awarded to the Lanai Community Health Center.
"This woman is remarkable . . . She was a good mother. She was a good wife. She was a good community leader," Ron McOmber said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.