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Peru Central School Athletic Director Cathy Phillips (right) listens as Kiwanis Club member Jim Murphy names her the club-s 2007 Everyday Hero. Phillips, unaware of the award, was dressed in a nun-s habit because she thought she was to speak at the meeting about bringing laughter to the workplace in the 21st century

PLATTSBURGH -- A local woman who has made a habit of being a hero was honored by the Plattsburgh Noon Kiwanis Club.

Peru Central School Athletic Director Cathy Phillips, unaware she was getting the 2007 Everyday Hero award, attended the recent meeting dressed in a nun's habit because she thought she was to speak to the club about bringing laughter to the workplace in the 21st century.

As Kiwanis Club member Jim Murphy attempted to present the award, Phillips told him not to interrupt -- that she was on a roll.

"You know what's so nice about wearing this outfit? I can flirt with people like you," Phillips said, snuggling up to Murphy.

"Another thing about these clothes, they're hot," she said to laughter, pulling up her skirt to show some leg and a pink Converse high-top sneaker.

Murphy was finally able to get Phillips to notice her mother, sister-in-law and several friends at the luncheon.

"You're here under a bit of a ruse," he said, telling her she was the recipient of the club's first-ever Everyday Hero Award.

"We're trying to celebrate regular people in everyday walks of life who do extraordinary things," Murphy said.

BIG SURPRISE

Phillips later said she was shocked by the award.

"I feel very fortunate I knew what I wanted to do" as a career, she said. "Teaching is a passion for me. I love to get up and go to work in the morning."

She said she's been blessed with wonderful colleagues and family.

"I could sense my father was here with me today," Phillips said.

Tracy Posada, a physical-education teacher at Peru Central, helped get Phillips to the luncheon. She told Phillips she had been asked to give a presentation but was too nervous.

"She bailed me out, like she always does," Posada said. "She's one of those people who doesn't think she deserves any award. We had to trick her to get her here."

READY TO HELP

"Miss Phil," as Phillips is known, has always been there for her students, said Erin Campbell of the Technical Assistance Center at Plattsburgh State.

Phillips was her coach in 1997 and her gym teacher from 1992 to 1998.

"No matter when or where, she's always ready to listen," Campbell said. "She's always available to talk. I think in this day and age that's so important."

Phillips later went from table to table to thank the Kiwanis members for the award.

She had been nominated by her sister-in-law, Shirley Phillips.

Murphy read from the letter, in which Shirley said Phillips "has been an optimistic, enthusiastic model for all of her students at Peru and is known throughout the county and state as one who is able and does make a difference in the lives of our future leaders.

"Cathy is always there to help, whether for the sick, those in financial difficulty or just a friend who needs to talk. And with her great sense of humor, (she) can joke with one in a way to change their day from despair to hope."

CARED FOR FATHER

Shirley told how Phillips cared for her ailing father before he died last year.

"I have seen Cathy come home from a long day at school and with love and a smile change the dressings on his wounds, cut his hair, give him a shave and generally make him feel like a new person. Her care for him was always her first consideration and enabled him to be at home until he passed in August," the letter read.

SAVED A LIFE

Shirley traveled with Phillips; her mother, Florence; and her sister, Betty, to Branson, Mo., in 2005. While at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede for a show, a man in the audience collapsed.

"Before I could even realize what was happening, Cathy had climbed over the two tiers and was giving this man CPR. Keep in mind, Cathy had never done this before but was well trained because of her position at school."

Phillips continued even after paramedics arrived, Shirley said.

"We will never forget that experience and the instant response that saved this man's life. Cathy has never been properly recognized for her part in this and never wished to be," Shirley wrote.

"Please consider Cathy to be your Everyday Hero for 2007. She is mine, she was her dad's, she is to Mr. X (the man she saved), so I hope she will be yours."

dheath@pressrepublican.com

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