Phyllis Alberta Keister Semple, the matriarch of the first family of women's golf in Western Pennsylvania, died Sunday at her winter home in Delray Beach, Fla. She was 87 and resided for most of her life in Sewickley Heights.
"She went exactly the way she wanted to, quickly and quietly," said her daughter, Carol Semple Thompson, the most celebrated female amateur golfer in the area the past five decades. "She was the main impetus in my golf game. She kept pushing me through the years. For me, that was a good thing. She was so dedicated to the amateur golf game and to golf, I couldn't help but be inspired."
Although she battled lupus since 1973, Mrs. Semple rode in a cart to follow her daughter at tournaments whenever possible.
"She did her best to hide the pain and discomfort, but we knew what she was going through," Mrs. Semple Thompson said. "I could look up and see her [at the tournaments] and I could hear her every time I missed a shot. You know how you can hear that particular voice of a loved one. I talked to her every day and she always wanted to know how I did in every round I played."
Mrs. Semple was born in Moundsville, W.Va., and grew up in the East End of Pittsburgh, where she attended Linden Elementary School and Winchester Thurston School. She graduated from Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) with a bachelor's degree in 1942.
Mrs. Semple lived most of her life in Sewickley Heights and kept horses for nearly 70 years on her farm that is called Rockledge.
Mrs. Semple's passion was golf, though she was an all-around athlete who played tennis and skated. Among her golf titles, she won the Western Pennsylvania Championship six times, the Pennsylvania State Senior Championship twice, a North and South Senior Championship, 16 club championships at Allegheny Country Club, the United States Senior Championship and was captain of the Women's U.S. Amateur team that competed in Portugal in 1976.
Mrs. Semple didn't start playing golf until 1944, when she married Harton Singer "Bud" Semple, who served as United States Golf Association president in 1974-75.
"She was the most competitive person I have ever known," said Mrs. Semple Thompson. "What advice did she give her children? Never, ever give up. That's the way she lived her life."
Two years ago, Mrs. Semple made two holes-in-one on the 88-yard fourth hole and the 90-yard 10th hole at the St. Andrews Club, a par-3 course in Delray Beach. She used a 6-wood each time.
Mrs. Semple Thompson, who was playing with her mother, recalled, "After the first one, she said, 'I can do it again.' Sure enough, she did."
In addition to playing golf, Mrs. Semple was accomplished on the piano and the harp and founded the Sewickley Concerts in the Park in 1994 and was a longtime board member of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. She was a founding member of the Symphony Association. Mrs. Semple also was a founding member of the Sewickley Valley Historical Society and served on the board of the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society.
In addition to Mrs. Semple Thompson, Mrs. Semple is survived by daughters Cherry White Semple and Heather Hollyday Semple and son Harton Semple Jr., all of Sewickley, and seven grandchildren.
The family will receive friends from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley Heights. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. next Saturday at the Presbyterian Church, Grant Street, Sewickley.
Phil Axelrod is a former Post-Gazette staff writer.