Charming character actor who, after spending a career as an accountant and raising four children as a single mother, retired at age 65 and returned to school at the University of Washington to study acting. Previously experienced in community theater, Phillips secured herself an agent and very soon thereafter appeared in the TV-movie "Chase" (1985). She acted in several other projects including the feature film "Waiting for the Light" (1990) and received her big break when cast for a one-time appearance on the series premiere of the Alaska-set CBS comedy-drama "Northern Exposure" that same year. Phillips was subsequently hired to reprise her role as crusty, no-nonsense but sensible and compassionate store owner Ruth-Anne in a recurring slot, and her likably weathered features and relaxed warmth soon proved to be such an indelible part of the ensemble that she was made a series regular.
As fiesty in real life as she was on screen, Phillips often penned her own dialogue, such as in one episode in which her character was criticized for smoking: "I've been smoking since I was 13 years old, and during the Eisenhower administration I peaked at three packs a day. I'm not about to stop now." She also bucked convention at the Emmys when she arrived as a best supporting actress nominee in 1993 in blue jeans, a red and white checked blouse, blue suspenders and brown sandals. After "Northern Exposure" folded in 1995, Phillips continued to appear frequently on network television in guest spots on such series as "Touched by an Angel," "ER," "Suddenly Susan" and "Boston Common." In 1997 she made her first appearence as Mrs. Hinkle on the WB's family-friendly series "Seventh Heaven" and would reprise the role again on several subsequent episodes. At age 81 the actress was struck by a car and suffered a broken hip and wrist, but bounced back admirably. An unrepentant smoker, Phillips died in 2002 of lung disease at age 84.