WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) gave a surprise floor speech in the chamber of the U.S. Senate in honor of a Delawarean retiring after three decades of public service.
Lynne T. Phifer of Newark, Delaware is slated to retire at the end of the month, wrapping up 36 years of public service with city, county, state, and federal governments.
During her career, Lynne Phifer worked for Delaware’s Department of Labor, Department of Health and Social Services, and Division of Personnel. She later worked for Mayor Daniel S. Frawley (1988 to 1992), then-Lt. Gov. John Carney (2001 to 2009), County Council President & County Executive Paul Clark (2009 to 2012), and Sen. Chris Coons (2013 to 2021).
Sen. Coons: Madam President, I rise today in this chamber to pay tribute to a dedicated Delawarean, a friend who is wrapping up 36 years of public service to our state and our nation.
Lynne Terry Phifer of Newark, Delaware, a valued member of my Senate staff, is retiring at the end of this month. She's been a high-spirited, pure-hearted presence for us as long as I've known her, and I am deeply grateful to Lynne for her service and grateful for her significant contributions.
Before I say farewell, though, it is only fitting to highlight her long career and offer up some thanks and some thoughts from her friends, family, coworkers, and well-wishers.
Her story didn’t start – and doesn't end – with her more than eight years serving in my offices for the Senate in Wilmington, Delaware.
She grew up in a community along the banks of Naamans Creek where it empties into the Delaware River. It's known as Claymont, Delaware, an area that's become better known perhaps because of Claymont's favorite son, our President Joe Biden.
Lynne graduated from Claymont High School in 1972, the same year Biden was first elected to this chamber, and it was at Claymont High School, where some members of my staff report, in good humor, that Lynne made a name for herself "playing a mean clarinet" – didn't know clarinets could be mean.
Lynne's public service career began shortly thereafter. She started a ten-year run with Delaware's Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Social Services, and the Division of Personnel. After that, her career continued across city, county, state, and federal governments.
From 1988 to 1992, she worked for well-known Mayor Dan Frawley of Wilmington. She later took on similar responsibilities for our lieutenant governor – and now governor – John Carney and later for Paul Clark, my successor as county executive in New Castle County. Paul said it was his good fortune to have hired Lynne. "She was a shining light in the field of government service," County Executive Clark said, "and an absolute joy to work with. I'm privileged to call Lynne my friend and wish her the best in retirement."
Governor Carney offered similar sentiments saying, "when I was lieutenant governor, Lynne helped make our office run smoothly and always offered a helping hand to constituents. She's compassionate, hardworking, and a good friend, and I am personally grateful for Lynne's many years of dedicated service. I wish her and her family all the best in retirement."
For more than eight years in my office in Wilmington, Lynne has seamlessly managed my front office and college internship program. And I can't tell you how hard a job it is to be the person who answers the phone day in and day out, particularly when serving a senator like me, who seems to draw all sorts of attention and angry phone calls. So, Lynne, thank you in particular for handling all the calls and complaints and concerns of Delawareans who call day in and day out.
Lynne's remained our beloved gatekeeper, the first person to greet visitors, the familiar voice on the main telephone line, someone who has handled sometimes literally hundreds of calls a day.
She's known for being reliable and trustworthy. She's highly regarded by my whole team and recognized for her breadth of knowledge of our state, who's who, which call needs to be answered first, who are the movers and shakers.
She's known for always staying calm and professional when helping constituents. And trust me, some of these calls can be incredibly emotional and difficult. Whether assisting someone needing a vaccination appointment or dealing with a veterans benefit question.
She's run my internship program flawlessly, and that's a true testament to Lynne. During her more than eight years of running that, she has interviewed, hired, trained, mentored, and supported more than 150 college interns, a good number of whom have come on to join our full-time professional staff.
She is, as Brendan Mackie would say, a true force multiplier. Several of our interns, as I mentioned, have gone on to be staff both in Wilmington and in Washington, and many others have gone on to executive branch agencies or to be activists, attorneys, nonprofit leaders, mentors, and volunteers.
It is a profound understatement to say that my team and I, and my wife Annie and I, will deeply miss Lynne.
Annie and I have known Lynne going all the way back to their time together in the Women's Democratic Club of Delaware when we were young couples and looking forward to someday both being parents of twins.
On my current staff, Marcus Wright, who is my outreach coordinator, added, "Lynne's always at the top of her game. As her counterpart in D.C., I learned to lean on her knowledge and follow her example. She helped me be a better staffer, and I owe her an enormous debt of gratitude."
Desiree Burritt, one of my most seasoned and capable caseworkers, said, "Lynne is ever-present and incredibly dependable."
Jessica Glass, my deputy scheduler, said, "Lynne not only helped me through the intern program, but I'm learning so much sitting on the other side now and getting to interview interns with her. She's watched me go full circle during the past four years."
Brian Cunningham, a beloved former staffer, said, "I always appreciated Lynne's warm greetings for the littlest guests to our office. He means his kids. When my kids came to visit or sitting with their parent to help finish out the workday, it was Lynne who had a stash of snacks and always a kind word."
Among her coworkers, she's earned a lot of good-natured nicknames: Lynney, Lynney-Boo, Lynne-yrd Skynyrd, others I won't repeat. But she is clearly omnipresent on the hearts and minds of those who served alongside her in Delaware.
Her dedication goes far beyond government service. She's volunteered her time with so many different groups. I mentioned the Women's Democratic Club. She's also served as chair of the 22nd Rep. District Committee, serving Hockessin and Pike Creek and Newark for many, many years, and she was honored with the Distinguished Service Award from the New Castle County Democrats in 2008 for her tireless service.
On the home front, her pride and joy include Dennis Phifer, her husband, and their twin sons Matthew and Christopher. We can't forget the beloved family canine Elle.
In her retirement, Lynne will have more time to spend with Dennis, Matt, Chris, and her network of friends going all the way to her Claymont days.
She looks forward to spending her mornings with Dennis, she says, making him coffee, reading the paper together, and staying up late as Dennis dozes off trying to finish the daily crossword. She surely will have more time with Elle, walking around the neighborhood and spoiling her with treats.
Dennis said of Lynne, who absolutely loves animals, wants to use her newfound time to volunteer to help service dogs and others support animals.
Madam President, Alice Paul, the famous suffragette, when speaking about the fight for women's rights, said, "I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end."
When looking back at Lynne's years of public service, 36 years, this analogy seems apt. Lynne’s been a hardworking and headstrong person, someone who has done incredible things, often behind the scenes, and helped create her own great mosaic through her decades of dedication and service to our community, our city, our county, our state, and this Senate.
Whether it was throwing her support behind Joe Biden amid a senate re-election run, or helping constituents in my office, or the hundreds of folks she has trained and recruited and mentored, Lynne's mosaic will last long and reach far, leaving her mark on Delaware for many, many years to come.
Lynne will undoubtedly continue to accomplish good and meaningful things, finding those moments in small pieces of colored stone or glass or ceramic and putting those in place, adding to her ongoing mosaic of life.
In closing, through her career, her volunteerism, her civic activism, Lynne has made a real difference. I can't thank her enough for her first-class dedication and her friendship. Lynne will be deeply missed in the Senate, and filling her shoes will be near impossible.
So, Lynne, thank you. Best of luck in all your future endeavors. You're treasured. And we’ll cheer you on your way as you celebrate this next chapter of your life.
Thank you, Madam President, and with that, I yield the floor.