Deborah Phelps, 54: Lost long battle with cancer

Deborah Phelps just loved bills. Not the kind you pay, but the kind you hug and kiss.

Like Bill Phelps, 51, her husband, whose full name is William C. Phelps III. And son William C. Phelps IV, called Billy, who is 30. And grandson William C. Phelps V, whom the family calls Will, born in 2008.

But she had more than enough love to go around, for her other children, Zachary Phelps, 25, Niegel Phelps, 16, and Travis Hutchins, 33, from her first marriage, and all three grandchildren, other family and friends.

Mrs. Phelps, 54, of Lawrenceville died July 29 after a 10-year “incredibly brave” battle with breast cancer, said Bill Phelps, with whom she would have celebrated 31 years of marriage on Sept. 1.

She was a woman with spunk and humor “who loved so many people” and didn’t know the meaning of quit.

Funeral services for Mrs. Phelps, whose remains will be cremated, are scheduled at 2 p.m. Monday at Wages & Sons Gwinnett Chapel. The family will receive friends at the chapel starting at 1 p.m.

Just six weeks ago, Mrs. Phelps flew to Arlington, Texas, and ended up helping deliver granddaughter Eva, who was born June 25, when the midwife they had been expecting showed up just a little too late.

“Incredibly, Deb wanted to drive, but I wouldn’t let her,” said husband Bill. “Come hell or high water, she was going to be there, even though she was very sick. She was not going to miss it.”

And even though she had been weakened by years of chemotherapy and surgery, one of her last wishes was to go hiking in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

“The last week in May, I took her there for a week,” her husband said. “She couldn’t hike, really, but she got to see it. She still said it was the best vacation she’d ever had.”

Mrs. Phelps, a mechanical engineer who also had a degree in accounting, decided long ago she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and she devoted all her energies to her sons and husband, an engineer for Motorola in Lawrenceville.

Sometimes her spunk produced more than love, longtime friend Deb Schmid, 49, said with a chuckle.

“We were like Thelma and Louise,” Mrs. Schmid said, referring to the movie of that title.

“A few years ago, we saw a great big swing set that somebody was throwing away, next to garbage at a gas station,” Mrs. Schmid said. “We passed it and she said, ‘Who needs that?’ and went back and grabbed Bill’s new pickup truck. We huffed and puffed and got it in the truck,” and now it’s being used by neighbors.

Mrs. Phelps, originally from New Hampshire, often put her engineering skills to use, too. Mrs. Schmid said Mrs. Phelps taught her how to install ceiling fans and work safely with electric switches and knew enough about cars to be a mechanic. The two met when their youngest kids were playing at Kennesaw Mountain on a third-grade picnic, and “from there our friendship blossomed.”

Life changed in the year 2000, when Mrs. Phelps found a lump in her left breast, leading to a mastectomy. After bouts of chemotherapy, Mrs. Phelps improved, and for five years “checked out fine,” her husband said.

“We said ‘whew -- we’re free of that,' but soon she had a backache, and we found it had metastasized,” Mr. Phelps said. “But even though her back hurt, this woman had recently gone mountain hiking and horseback riding with her sister-in-law in Colorado. Her doctor said, ‘Are you crazy?' She said, ‘Hey, I’m going to live my life.’ ”

Just before Christmas last year, she was told time was short.

“Everybody toward the end had a chance to have a one-on-one with her,” Mr. Phelps said. “She couldn’t move, but we could see the tears in her eyes. She knew it was the end.”

Other survivors include a brother, Art Gilmet of Laconia, N.H., and a sister, Alice Cilley, also of Laconia.