Phyllis Lieberman, 73, of Elkins Park, the Whitpain Township manager for three decades, died Saturday, Aug. 11, at Einstein Medical Center in Elkins Park of complications from an earlier fall.
In 1981, Mrs. Lieberman became assistant township manager in Whitpain, and a short while later was appointed township manager. She held the position until 2010, when she stepped down to work for a year on township planning projects before retiring in 2011.
"Whitpain Township has been very fortunate to have Phyllis as its manager for almost 30 years," Joseph Palmer, chairman of the board of supervisors, told the Ambler Gazette in 2010.
When Mrs. Lieberman took over, Whitpain was not on the public radar. Many thought of it as a stoplight and seven street lamps along Route 202 surrounded by woods and fields, said her son, Neil Lieberman. She oversaw its growth into a thriving community.
Mrs. Lieberman presided over improvements in public works, code enforcement, the police department, ambulance service, and recreation facilities.
"Over the years, for a little community, we've been recognized nationally as one of the best places to live," Mrs. Lieberman told the Gazette. She said publications such as Money and Philadelphia Magazine had singled out Whitpain as desirable. "For the longest time," she said, "people didn't really know who we were, and we have brought ourselves into the main scheme of the Philadelphia area."
Before 1994, Whitpain had no parks and recreation department. Wentz Run Park did not exist when she became manager. She was able to help get the land set aside for public use.
"That park really gets used a lot by people of all ages," she told the Gazette. "It's really been the greatest pleasure. Because we're a township and we don't have a downtown, that's the place where people come together. It gives us a real sense of community. The park system is something we're pretty proud of."
Born in Philadelphia to Edward B. and Blanche H. Crane, Mrs. Lieberman grew up in West Oak Lane. At age 16, she moved with her family to Memphis so her father could take a job with the Sam Fortas Housefurnishing Co.
In 1963, Mrs. Lieberman returned to Philadelphia to enroll in Temple University. That December, she met Max Lieberman, and they married in 1964. The Liebermans then moved to Lincoln, Neb., where her husband was a missile launch officer at Lincoln Air Force Base.
In August 1965, her husband was transferred to Shreveport, La. Mrs. Lieberman completed her bachelor's degree in elementary education at Centenary College of Louisiana in 1968. She was a second-grade practice teacher in Bossier Parish.
After graduating, Mrs. Lieberman taught in an early Head Start program, enacted by President Lyndon B. Johnson to help meet the needs of preschool-age children from low-income families.
In August 1968, the Liebermans moved to Greenbelt, Md., Mrs. Lieberman taught fourth grade at Highbridge Elementary School in Bowie.
In 1971, the family returned to the Philadelphia area. Mrs. Lieberman earned a master's degree in public administration from Pennsylvania State University in 1980.
While serving as Whitpain Township manager, she was active at the county level. She was chairman of the Montgomery County Consortium of Communities, president of the Southeast Pennsylvania Managers' Association, and vice president of the Association of Pennsylvania Professional Managers.
Mrs. Lieberman was a member of a blue-ribbon panel assigned to investigate whether Montgomery County needed a health department. As a result of the panel's work, the question was put to a voter referendum in 1989, and the county office of public health began operating in 1991.
She was a long-time board member of the Montgomery County Solid Waste Authority and organized one of the first county-wide hazardous waste disposal events.
When liability insurance rates for municipalities began to soar in 1989, Mrs. Lieberman served on a committee of the Consortium of Communities to see if there was an alternative to commercial insurance. The consortium founded the Delaware Valley Insurance Trust, a risk management pool, and she served as a trustee until 2012.
Mrs. Lieberman was also a vice president of the Germantown Jewish Center and president of the Rotary Club of Blue Bell.
Besides her husband and son, she is survived by another son, Matthew; two grandchildren; and a sister.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, at Goldsteins' Rosenberg's Raphael-Sacks, 6410 N. Broad St. Burial is private.