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Phyllis Montgomery, 89, died peacefully on August 4, 2020, in her beloved city of Santa Fe, NM. Her "graced life," as she called it, began humbly on July 19, 1931, when she was born in Depression Era Chicago to a Scotch-Irish and Polish immigrant family. At age 19, a friend whose father was a U.S. Army officer in the Allied occupation of post-war Austria invited her to stay with them in a castle where The Sound of Music was later filmed. Working four jobs, she saved enough money to sail to Europe on the SS Liberte. Thus started a 5 year period abroad, where she eventually worked in the Army Counterintelligence Corps and studied German at the University of Vienna. She then moved to Barcelona, Spain, working at a Voice of America broadcasting station on the Costa Brava. Phyllis returned to the U.S. and settled in New York City, working at Fortune magazine under Art Director Leo Lionni. She received a B.A. from The New School in 1958, where she met her future husband, Gil Konishi, whom she married in 1964 in Kobe, Japan. Japanese culture and aesthetics would become a lifelong passion. After returning to New York, Phyllis curated the Hall of Presidents, a special exhibition of presidential artifacts, at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. This launched a career in large-scale exhibition design, including the 1967 Montreal Expo, where she collaborated with Buckminister Fuller on his geodesic dome and curated the U.S. Pavilion. She returned to Japan to curate the American Pavilion at the 1970 Osaka Expo. In 1975, Phyllis and Gil (later divorced) and their young son, Weston were pioneer residents on Roosevelt Island, a newly developed mixed income community between Queens and Manhattan. The fledgling community provided a broad canvass for her civic involvement, from the preservation of landmark buildings on the Island to the creation of several parks and playgrounds. During this time, as a contractor for the Corning Museum of Glass, Phyllis acquired a prized collection of botanical glassware from the Blaschka family in Dresden, smuggling the pieces out of then-East Germany using custom-built crates with false bottoms. But it was while collecting Native American objects for the 1965 Expo that Phyllis first came to New Mexico and fell in love with the state. The opportunity to live there came in 1980, when she moved to Santa Fe with her son. They lived there for over two years before she returned to New York to be the director of research and senior curator for the Statue of Liberty Centennial Exhibit and Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. At the close of those projects she returned to Santa Fe. A deep and abiding respect for Native American cultures led her to a job with Reuben Snake of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). In 1995, she became Executive Director of The Santa Fe Forum, a non-profit that she dedicated toward improving the physical environs of the Santa Fe Indian Hospital (SFIH). Working with Gloria Emerson (Navajo) and Rina Swentzell (Santa Clara Pueblo), the group transformed the hospital from an austere federal facility into one that richly reflected the Native cultures and peoples that it served. Phyllis considered the SFIH the crowning achievement of her career, although motherhood was her greatest joy in life. In retirement, Phyllis was active with the Santa Fe Vipassana Sangha and the Upaya Zen Center and was a frequent concertgoer, nourishing a love of music born from her days in Vienna seeing the great sopranos and orchestras of that era. Brothers Lester and Warren and sister Jeanne predeceased her. She is survived by her loving son Weston Konishi and his wife Greer Meisels of Baltimore, MD, as well as many devoted friends around the world whose lives she touched. Memorial services are not planned but donations in her memory can be made to the New Mexico Community Foundation https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/1442302?uniqueID= 634466773032635165. Please send donation acknowledgments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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