Cover photo for Phyllis Lea Harper - Rispoli's Obituary
1947 Phyllis 2022

Phyllis Lea Harper - Rispoli

April 8, 1947 — December 1, 2022

On Thursday, December 1st, 2022, Phyllis Lea Harper-Rispoli departed this earth to be with our Heavenly Father. She was born in Webb City, Missouri, but raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her parents James Clayton Harper and Betty (Heilman) Harper raised Phyllis by providing many summers on the Texas ranch of her grandparents and attending twelve years of Catholic education in Tulsa. These experiences would provide the foundation for her never ending interest in dance, art, music, travel and people.

Upon graduation from Bishop Kelly High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Phyllis had one goal: to travel and see as much as she could see. She fell in love with Colorado, California and then Arizona. She loved the different climates, the gigantic mountains of Colorado set against blue skies, the vineyards and beaches of northern California, and the smell of Orange Blossoms when spring came to Arizona

She was always working, working to pay for school, or working to save money to travel, or working to pay for her little Karmann Ghia. She was always organized, had budget in hand and could stretch a dollar far enough to always have money for a glass of red wine. She was industrious, but found peace and calm in watching dramatic performances, and eating great Chinese food in San Francisco.

She met Rob Rispoli at the "Devils' Den' at Arizona State University in 1964. He broke her heart more than once early on in their relationship because he knew she was the one. He was in love with her but scared, not quite ready. It was the mid-sixties, and the Vietnam war was in full swing. Rob, failing at his studies dropped out of school, joined the army and faded from her life until he would write or call. This went on until New Year's Eve of 1967, when they both knew their fate was to be together forever.

On Saturday, May 11th, 1968, Phyllis and Rob were married, and would remain so for fifty-four years. On the day of the marriage ceremony in Tulsa, Rob received his orders for Vietnam. They had enough time for a once in a lifetime honeymoon which took them from Tulsa to journey on roads less traveled and find with each other the unspoken words of love, comfort and support for what was coming.

Rob was in Vietnam almost a year as they exchanged tapes and letters. In 1969, Phyllis got the news that Rob was wounded and coming home. She drove to El Paso, Texas from Tempe, by herself, and came to the hospital and found Rob and took him home to Tempe, Arizona where the healing process could start for both of them.

They had fallen in love with Durango, Co on their honeymoon trip, and started leaving Tempe on weekends to drive 7 hours to be in the mountains, hear the water in the streams and find quiet air. They both realized that they needed this secret potion of quiet, and beauty and each other if they were going to heal together and have a future. They moved to Durango, Colorado and spent a year in a small railyard cabin that had been remodeled by a Presbyterian minister and his wife. They both had jobs, struggled with finances, but found in that tiny home, so much laughter with rituals of togetherness that would connect them both for life to that place and time.

In 1970 they knew the future of a home and family was not in Durango but in a larger city. They moved from Durango back to Tempe, where they would both work and finish college hours, and be together. Phyllis worked as a waitress, Rob worked at a bookstore and they lived in their apartment at 109 East Broadway, Tempe, Arizona which held the sounds of Santana, the Doobie Brothers and Ella. They started slowly on their Spiritual path of discovery finding a community of committed souls at the Lutheran Campus Center.

In the Spring of 1971, Phyllis and Rob decided they would spend their summer working at Glacier National Resort. Phyllis found a natural fit as a provider of guest services and being a tour guide, and Rob was happy to be working in the kitchen. Everything was set to depart early June of 71 in the little blue VW. Then the news. Phyllis was pregnant.

We were always planning and God was always laughing. We took solace in the fact that we wanted a family more than anything, so we sat down, as we always did, talked into the wee hours of the night and came up with a plan. We always thought it was our plan but we would learn over time that we were always on God's schedule.

Rob was blessed to find employment after weeks of rejection because of his Vietnam service, a compassionate employer who would embrace both Phyllis and Rob. As the job responsibilities increased so did the income and we were able to buy our first house, 1071 East Minton Drive, Tempe, Arizona, a home where we would raise our son, Chris in his very early years, a home where Phyllis could go back to school and a home of love, laughter, wine and song. A home, made warm by the colors Phyllis chose, and the boundless energy she found to work, go to school and be an incredible mother, and find time to set-up a baby sitting co-op that worked so well that it continued long after she left.

During her early 20's Phyllis was a dedicated student, mother, and volunteer at the local food co-operative. In 1976 Rob received a promotion and Phyllis, Chris in hand, moved to Palo Alto for two years of the "California Experience." Phyllis found friends from the past, new friends and worked on establishing a completely Organic Kitchen. It was something to watch as Phyllis read, talked with other women, and slowly removed from our kitchen any signs of salt, processed foods or unhealthy sugars. This was her "eat organic" period. She was totally successful and brought joy to our kitchen table with experiments in eating healthy decades before it was fashionable.

We went back home to Arizona where Phyllis started her career track in Human Career Development. I stayed home and took care of a young son. Phyllis, suggested, that in order to save money and afford our new house we try sharing the house with another family. We invited a small family of three to share our home. It was a Phyllis experiment that taught us all about sharing, planning, and being unselfish. Phyllis always brought out the best in all of us!!

We moved with my employment in 1978 to New Mexico. Phyllis found friends, racquetball, and exploring the small highways of New Mexico with Rob and Chris as the best way to learn something new. The highlight of the year was working with Rob, to sponsor a corporate event that had the top western artists in New Mexico. Western artists from throughout New Mexico came to the new Apache Resort, "Inn of the Mountain Gods" to display their works. Phyllis loved artists and all types of art, but treasured western landscapes with bright colors.

The decade of the eighties belonged to Phyllis. After working with large corporations like Digital, EG&G, and Motorola she started to define her role as a trainer, a Human Resource planning specialist, and client focused teacher. Her focus on preparation, and her constant drive to touch clients in their career growth was something to watch and appreciate. She found balance in music, art, plays and spiritual discussions. It was a time of "work hard", "play hard". Phyllis was a joy for others as her laughter could fill a quiet room, her smile could bring confidence to others and her heart was always focused on those less fortunate.

After being married for almost a quarter of century, small cracks appeared in the relationship. Phyllis never was one to wait on relationship issues. She insisted, that counseling start and Rob reluctantly agreed. The nineties would be significant in two ways that would solidify their relationship forever. First, Rob would discover that counseling would finally help him understand his feelings, tied in many ways to Vietnam. Second, Phyllis and Rob would start the journey of couples counseling. This exploration would enhance their relationship, bring joy to their lives and provide a vehicle to find the center of their love through touch and words, and incredible spiritual growth.

As Phyllis entered her fifth decade she recognized the need for something new, change was in the air, and this is what happened: In the fall of 1996 Rob had a business meeting in Albuquerque that ended early. He had hours before his plane flight back to Phoenix. Driving around without a map or a plan he was driving down 19th street as a person was putting a 4-sale sign in the front yard of what appeared to be newly remodeled property. Rob stopped, got out of his car, and started talking with the person who it turned out was the owner. Rob immediately realized that this was something special. He called Phyllis and she immediately flew over. What was a random discovery, maybe not random but part of God's never-ending plan, became La Perla Bed and Breakfast. A dream come true for Phyllis that lasted a quarter of a century and brought her a community of friends, threads of art and music that would weave into her quilt of love and family and would be a foundation for all good things that would happen throughout those twenty five years.

Phyllis Lea Harper-Rispoli was a child of God, a woman of light. You cannot in a few words describe her life, but you can see the notes, the colors, the pictures, the music that she touched, and that touched her. She did her best all the time. She was curious, she was thoughtful, she had an iron will, she worked at being happy, but more than anything she had gratitude for this life, and a deep spiritual understanding of the life beyond these earthly bonds.

Her brother, Scott, her sister Meg, her son Chris, her family of the world and her community of friends will be here to honor her each day with the constant reminder that she was truly a child of God, that we were blessed to have felt her kindness, her laughter, her ideas, her love and her spirit for life. We will miss her in all ways, every day as we make our journey toward what she said every day, "Don't worry be happy."

A Memorial Service to honor Phyllis Lea Harper-Rispoli will be held on her birthday, April 8th, 2023. Details available from Debbie +1 (505) 980-9136

To send flowers to the family in memory of Phyllis Lea Harper - Rispoli, please visit our flower store.

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Saturday, April 8, 2023

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