Phyllis Griggs, first woman city commissioner in McAllen, dies at 86

dfwnewsa | March 15, 2024 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News

Phyllis Griggs, first woman city commissioner in McAllen, dies at 86

McALLEN — She was a Renaissance woman. One who was possessed of many talents and who wore many hats. Single mother. Small business owner. Basketball mom. Animal lover. Poet. Mentor. Fiercely loyal friend. City commissioner.

She has been called a trailblazer, a breaker of glass ceilings, a risk-taker, a role model and a “natural boss.”

She was a force of nature and now she is gone.

Phyllis Griggs, the first woman to be elected to the McAllen City Commission, and one-time owner of the Mr. Donuts franchises in the Rio Grande Valley, died at her McAllen home on Thursday, March 7. She was 86 years old.

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“I can’t believe that this force of nature is out of the world for a week and it hasn’t collapsed,” Phyllis’ daughter, Tracy Griggs, said.

Tracy, who now lives in the Northeast, has spent much of the last few months helping to care for her mother here in the Valley.

During that time, she has increasingly come to know her mother as viewed through the lenses of Phyllis’ friends and former colleagues, many of whom have reached out to share anecdotes, remembrances, and most of all, words of thanks.

People have told Tracy how Phyllis helped them, believed in them, how she was a “champion of champions.”

Phyllis Griggs, the first woman to serve as a McAllen city commissioner, died on Thursday, March 7, 2024. She served between 1987 and 2001. Known as a “trailblazer,” Griggs owned and operated several Mr. Donut franchises throughout the Rio Grande Valley. She was 78. (Courtesy: Tracy Griggs)

“That’s pretty cool to have your mother thought of like that,” Tracy said.

“It’s rewarding to see this other side of the person that’s been my mom. The person I’ve loved and argued with, like we do,” Tracy added with a mirthful laugh.

Phyllis grew up in the Midwest. She was born in Nebraska, the only child to Fritz Rieger and Kathryn Lambson.

And it was as a young child when the world first got a glimpse of the savvy negotiator Phyllis — who only had a high school diploma — would grow up to become.

“She actually talked a milkman into letting her take care of his horse when she was a little girl,” Tracy explained.

At just 8 or 9 years old, little Phyllis convinced the deliveryman to let her care for the horse in exchange for asking her parents to allow him to rent a room above their home.

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Tracy said that was her mother’s “first negotiation.”

Years later, Phyllis and her then-husband would move down to McAllen, where she wound up staying and establishing herself as a prominent businesswoman.

Phyllis Griggs, the first woman to serve as a McAllen city commissioner, died on Thursday, March 7, 2024. She served between 1987 and 2001. Known as a “trailblazer,” Griggs owned and operated several Mr. Donut franchises throughout the Rio Grande Valley. She was 78. (Courtesy: Tracy Griggs)

She owned and operated a series of donut shops — franchises of Mister Donut — in cities across the Valley. She also operated several coin laundromats under the name Carousel Laundry.

Tracy said Phyllis’ sense of innovation led her to incorporate Mexican pan dulce in her donut shops, quickly making them some of the most successful franchises in the company.

That corporate success became a part of her larger public identity.

“I always remember the first woman city commissioner of McAllen was known as ‘Mr. Donut,’” former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling quipped this week.

Darling served as McAllen city attorney during part of Phyllis’ tenure on the McAllen City Commission. She served on the commission from 1987-2001.

On Friday, Darling will serve as an emcee at a celebration of life to be held in Phyllis’ honor.

Darling recalled how Phyllis served on the commission during the long tenure of Mayor Othal Brand, a firebrand of a leader whose fingerprints remain on much of the city, even today.

But Phyllis was no shrinking violet.

Phyllis Griggs, the first woman to serve as a McAllen city commissioner, died on Thursday, March 7, 2024. She served between 1987 and 2001. Known as a “trailblazer,” Griggs owned and operated several Mr. Donut franchises throughout the Rio Grande Valley. She was 78. (Courtesy: Tracy Griggs)

“Her relationship with Othal Brand was a love-hate relationship,” Darling said.

Mike Perez, who served as McAllen city manager for two decades, often had a front-row seat to the war of wills that frequently erupted between Phyllis, Brand, and anyone who disagreed with him, including Perez himself.

“I would give Othal Brand my opinion. He didn’t want my opinion and he told me to be quiet,” Perez said of the spirited debates that would happen behind closed doors during the commission’s executive sessions.

“He hit me once in the chest and said, ‘I’m the mayor!’” Perez recounted.

Phyllis, meanwhile, decided that humor was the best way to dispel tensions.

A few meetings after that altercation between Perez and Brand, Phyllis brought a souvenir to the next city commission meeting that she had picked up during a recent trip.

It was a replica of a fictional communicator made famous by the television show, “Star Trek,” and its chief character, Captain James T. Kirk.

To no one’s surprise, Perez and Brand “got into it again” in closed session. But while Brand was facing Perez to lambast him, Phyllis stood silently behind the mayor mouthing the words “Beam me up, Scotty” while tapping her chest, just as the characters did on “Star Trek.”

Phyllis Griggs, the first woman to serve as a McAllen city commissioner, died on Thursday, March 7, 2024. She served between 1987 and 2001. Known as a “trailblazer,” Griggs owned and operated several Mr. Donut franchises throughout the Rio Grande Valley. She was 78. (Courtesy: Tracy Griggs)

Her miming elicited laughter from the rest of the commission, much to Brand’s chagrin, who thought they were laughing at him.

But Phyllis’ actions had their desired effect. The brewing tension had popped like a balloon.

“Phyllis Griggs’ was always doing things that would lighten up a very tense situation. I’ll always appreciate her for that,” Perez said, adding that he still has the “Star Trek” communicator that Phyllis also gave him, as well as a Christmas ornament in the shape of the Starship Enterprise.

Phyllis maintained that sense of whimsy throughout their long friendship, Perez said.

She would regularly visit Weslaco City Hall when he served as city manager there, either to have lunch with Perez or to drop off toys, much to the bemused delight of Weslaco city staff who would call Perez to tell him about the woman who had just dropped by.

“She was always doing silly things all the time, and a lot of people had no idea,” Perez said.

Tracy agreed.

“She was silly,” Tracy said. “And she loved words. She was competitive. She was a fantastic Scrabble player.”

Phyllis Griggs, the first woman to serve as a McAllen city commissioner, died on Thursday, March 7, 2024. She served between 1987 and 2001. Known as a “trailblazer,” Griggs owned and operated several Mr. Donut franchises throughout the Rio Grande Valley. She was 78. (Courtesy: Tracy Griggs)

That gift for words extended to a love of writing. The Monitor often ran columns penned by the prolific Phyllis. But she was also a poet.

Mike Blum, who served on the McAllen Public Utility Board when Phyllis was on the city commission, spoke of a poem she once wrote for him entitled, “El Niño.”

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“It’s a poem that she wrote about me — for me — in 1998,” Blum said. “In many ways, what she wrote about me could have been written about her.”

“It was windy, it was large/ It clearly was in charge!/ And it swept through the Valley/ Like a rocket!” the poem reads in part.

“It was warm, it was loud/ It was out to make us proud/ And we were amazed at its range/ And its sum,” another portion reads.

Blum keeps a framed copy of the poem in a place of prominence in his office, he said.

He also echoed Tracy’s sentiments about Phyllis being a “force of nature.”

“She saw … no hill too high to climb, no obstacle that she couldn’t overcome,” Blum said.

Phyllis Griggs, the first woman to serve as a McAllen city commissioner, died on Thursday, March 7, 2024. She served between 1987 and 2001. Known as a “trailblazer,” Griggs owned and operated several Mr. Donut franchises throughout the Rio Grande Valley. She was 78. (Courtesy: Tracy Griggs)

For Tracy, her mother’s dogged determination boiled down to simple faith.

“Don’t discount things just because it doesn’t sound like it could work,” Tracy said. “Because, a lot of times, it’s not worked because people haven’t asked the right question, approached it the right way.”

Success came in trusting that things would work out, and in finding joy in the journey itself.

One of Phyllis’ most beloved pastimes, shell hunting, illustrated that perfectly.

Tracy spoke of how her mother loved to drive to the most deserted stretches of beach on South Padre Island in her Isuzu Amigo SUV in search of “the perfect shell.”

“She, I think, finally came to the realization that the seeking (of) the perfect shell was actually the perfect shell. It was the joy of doing it that was the perfection,” Tracy said.

The post Phyllis Griggs, first woman city commissioner in McAllen, dies at 86 appeared first on MyRGV.com.

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