Age 70, Debbie Dillon was born on March 12, 1950 in Benson, Arizona. She passed away on February 4, 2021 after, as she called it, “an irritating and whiney four-year battle with cancer.” She was, in fact, inspirational in the way she dealt with her illness. She was always proud of the fact that her young parents rode cross-country on a motorcycle with their infant son, Richard, from North Carolina to Benson, Arizona in the late 1940’s – true adventurers! She was the product of the Benson school system from kindergarten through high school. She then attended and graduated from the University of Southern California.
Upon graduation, she began a career dedicated to education. She worked in leadership development programs with the Arizona Department of Education. Among the many programs she founded and implemented at the Department were trainings that vastly increased the number of women educators as successful administrators, and a program that strengthened advocacy for Title IX compliance in Arizona schools. The YWCA of the United States Leadership Development Center recognized her distinctive talents and recruited her to head their leadership program for women. In 1989, the City of Phoenix selected her to establish the City of Phoenix Education Office. In that capacity she served as the City’s liaison to the 29 school districts within the boundaries of Phoenix. During her tenure, she reorganized the Education and Youth Commission and established the “Principal for a Day” program, involving CEO’s of businesses in the City’s schools to encourage their participation and better understanding of the challenges faced by teachers and administrators. Countless CEO’s wrote to thank her for giving them this opportunity to better understand the complexities of education and the need for adequate school resources. And countless community leaders believe one of her greatest contributions was serving as a relentless advocate for and invaluable mentor to literally thousands of young people encouraging them to graduate and seek higher educational and career opportunities. To say she was loved by them all would be an understatement. One of her proudest accomplishments was the founding of the “College Depot”, a free, full-service college access center at the Burton Barr Library. It has developed into one of the City’s greatest resource centers for high school students who wish to explore post-high school education opportunities, financial aid, and scholarships. Thousands of students have taken advantage of its college planning advisors and workshops.
Debbie had a lifelong affinity for Boxers. After retiring from the City of Phoenix she dedicated herself to helping rescue and foster Boxers, as well as raise funds for their care and rehabilitation, donating her time generously to the cause. Benson and her southern Arizona roots were an important part of her family legacy and it was her wish to establish an annual scholarship program for a deserving senior graduating from Benson High School in the name of the Dillon Family. Her mother, Mary “Kacky” Dillon served as the Town Mayor. Her father, Everett, was a School Board Member and she, Richard and Anda are all Benson High School graduates. Debbie is survived by her brother Richard Dillon and sister-in-law Anda Dillon of Benson, Arizona; cousins Karen, Steve, Colsen, and Chasen Mercier of Temecula, California; many extended family members in North Carolina; and her beloved Boxer Izzie. She is also survived by Jai and Devan Patel of Phoenix, Arizona, two boys who knew her as “Aunt” Debbie, but who loved and cared for only like a grandmother could. Debbie was the very proud and beloved “Aunt” to Julia and Meghan Meyerson, whom she “mentored” from their birth and who have embarked on educational careers, Julia founding Vista College Prep and Meghan working at College Depot. Debbie was surrounded by many loving and admiring friends and family. Memorial donations may be made to Phoenix Public Library Foundation for College Depot, P.O. Box 3735, Phoenix, Arizona 85030. Debbie requested that her ashes be spread in the Dragoon Mountains, near Benson. A celebration of Debbie’s life will be held at a future date. Phoenix has lost one of its finest public servants. May she rest in peace.
I am so sorry to hear of your passing. Although we didn’t work long together at the “Luv to Save” shop, you will be very missed. I hope you are able to finally rest in peace. I have no doubt you will be looking down and “directing” all of us volunteers at the shop 🙂
I met Debbie at USC – my very good fortune. I am and will always be grateful for her and her friendship. I miss her. I know you do, too. I am sorry for your loss. I share your grief. I will keep you in my prayers.
Debbie was fierce and passionate about education, and when I joined College Depot as a volunteer and later an Americorps members, she quickly realized the higher education spirit in me and championed my work. I am still a contractor with the Depot today, and I shall never forget that Debbie was responsible for our wonderful work. Her spirit lives on in everything we do and all that I stand for.
Debbie was one of my brightest lights, and the world got a little darker last week when her physical presence dimmed for many of us. However, that moment was fleeting, thank God, because her heart and soul lives on as a guardian angel in the quest to better our community through education.
I worked with Deb when we were both volunteers for Boxer Luv Rescue. She was instrumental in working with me to open the rescue’s Luv-to-Save Thrift Shop which became a significant support to our rescue of Boxers, a breed we both loved dearly.
Deb was a first class volunteer , running the Thrift shop, getting great volunteers on board, fostering dogs and providing financial support for the rescue. I loved volunteering with her. She was a leader with a sharp wit, a great sense of humor and a great work ethic. She was a creative, talented business woman. I considered her a good, supportive friend. Boxer Luv would not have been so successful without her. I admired her strength and tenacity at fighting her disease – never complained just fought as long as she could. May she rest in Peace.
Want to Express my condolences to Rich Dillon and family . What a great family. So glad that Rich and I made getting to know he and his family through our sports at Benson high school. God Bless.
My sincere condolences to Debbie’s family and legions of friends and colleagues. I served with Debbie on the Phoenix Excellence in Education Commission for many years. In addition, Debbie cajoled me into participating in the first year of the Principal for a Day program. Her personal warmth, sense of humor and passion for serving others were models for us all. Rest In Peace, my friend.
Ray Kemp & Rick Douglas
Thank you, Debbie, for your life of dedication to education (and to doggies), a legacy that has inspired so many who had the privilege to know you. Your wisdom, gentle spirit and humility made a big impact on this community which will live on through the Library’s College Depot program. Our condolences to Debbie’s family and her many, many friends. May you rest in peace.
I met Debbie about 20 years ago when I was the CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Phoenix (BGCMP). She was instrumental in the building and development of the BGCMP Dental Clinic which served thousands of children. The Dental Clinic still exists today. She was so much fun, loving, serious, and passionate. I will miss her.
Debbie lived and died with inspiration and grace. We hope we can emulate her.
I am so sorry for your loss. I had the good fortune of working as a public information officer at the City of Phoenix and got to help promote her College Depot. I loved how brilliant she was, her passion for education and her sense of humor. It was a joy and an honor to know her. She was exceptional!
Donna L McBride
I am saddened by the news of Debbie’s passing. Many years ago I had the opportunity to work with her on the Phoenix Youth Commission. Her inspiration followed me to Casa Grande where I helped create a Youth Commission. She contributed so much to students and communities. Rest easy Debbie. Your legacy will continue to change lives.
Casa Grande City Councilwoman
Debbie was the wry smile and smirk from Benson. Debbie guided us in helping the schools and students. She was friends with every Principal. College Depot is an amazing phoneme on with a caring and persistent staff. Debbie was beyond humble. She never asked for nor desired the spotlight. She was a great connector for education. I adored her.
Debbie was fully devoted to supporting young people. Great city programs like Principal for a Day, Youth of the Year, Youth Town Hall, Youth Advisory Commission, College Depot, After School Tax Credit Donations, and many more, were never stronger than when Debbie led the City of Phoenix Education Office. Her career made a positive impact on thousands of teens. They learned leadership skills, mentoring skills and made lifelong friendships because of her work. Her legacy will go on for a very long time. I admired her work and consider myself fortunate to have worked with Debbie for many years.
Former Phoenix City Councilmember
Former Phoenix Mayor
Debbie Dillon Fan
Debbie introduced me to glass fusing many years ago. She had recently taken up the hobby and had a kiln in her kitchen where I created my very 1st pendant. Because of her, the memorial glass I create has helped bring peace and healing to hundreds of families. I am forever grateful – the ripples of her kindness continue on. Sending love to her family & friends.
Reverend Jarrett Maupin (Family of Opal Ellis)
Debbie was a community treasure and we will miss her terribly. What memorable fun was had and good works were done serving under her administrative leadership on the City of Phoenix Youth and Education Commission. She had infectious humor and sharp wit to spare. Debbie was also one of the most selfless and diligent public servants I have ever encountered. I will cherish her emails/notes and the good advice and encouragement therein. Debbie was loved, truly, by this city and her youth. I know her legacy will live on and continue to open doors of opportunity for young people and their pursuit of education. Our family is praying for all who mourn Debbie.
Debbie was a fierce fighter for all youth to acquire the skills needed to be prepared for success in life and work. While she was at the Arizona Department of Education, she established high school programs across Arizona specially for students to become acquainted with work that was not specific to their gender, helping girls see the opportunities in careers that usually were held by males, as well as visa versa. The model she established was so successful, that other states across the US developed similar courses. She was passionate about her work to bring equality to all. She was always dedicated to making whatever she pursued a success. Today, in Arizona programs in Career and Technical Education reflect her start at bringing the ability for all students to enter non-traditional careers for both men and women.. She had the courage to be a groundbreaker. My condolences to her family for their loss of this woman who made a difference for others through her life.
Debbie was a truly special woman who humbly dedicated herself to her community, in particular our youth. I was grateful to have worked with her for many years while in corporate philanthropy – she was my most trusted source for understanding the most pressing needs of Phoenix area students and schools. Loved her for her friendship, honesty and humor – a great woman. Rest peacefully, dear Debbie.
Debbie was a shining star in every possible way. I worked with her for a number of years as she put the final touches on College Depot. Her memory will, in fact, be a blessing to those of us who will always remember her.
Debbie was an incredible person who was deeply committed to the youth of Phoenix. I had the privilege to work alongside her on many projects. If she was involved, I was there. Her legacy to the City of Phoenix and its youth will outlive us all. Thank you Debbie for being our north star.
Debbie Dillon had a vision to create a place-based college access center in Phoenix to level the playing field in higher education and give more people the tools and support necessary to achieve their college dreams.
Actually, it started out as a fantasy to open a coffee and college t-shirt shop with baristas trained in financial aid that would inspire teenagers to reach for the stars and then help them with their FAFSA’s, admissions applications and scholarship essays! Haha!
After thorough research and orchestrating a stellar planning committee she formed the foundation to create College Depot on the 2nd of the Burton Barr Central Library. She recruited me 13 years ago to serve as the Director. I was happily working at UA and already vested in the state retirement system and not looking for a career change. However, this passionate, witty, straight shooting dynamo convinced me to join her in kicking off this amazing and life-changing program.
I’m forever thankful to this incredible woman for giving me my dream job and for mentoring me every step of the way. She taught me to be innovative, savvy, and to toughen my skin to get the job done right.
We bonded on this journey. My dad and Debbie were both born in 1950 in Arizona and he even lived in Benson – her beloved hometown – as a baby. We shared a love of boxer dogs. Lucas was born on her birthday, which she treasured. We lost this incredible woman last week. I miss you Debbie. Your beautiful legacy will live on forever.
Today would have been Debbie’s 71st birthday and somehow I cannot believe she did not have something to do with the rain and rainbow and sunshine we had locally. I cannot say enough good things about this incredible woman. Always such an ambitious lady and so well liked. She seemed to have a knack for including everyone in all her endeavors. She had a strong sense of fairness and logic and what would be best for everyone and could cut to the bottom line of a problem to see it for what it was. I admired her love of dogs and keen interest in politics and her gentleness and humility. I will miss her immensely.
Debbie was an amazing leader and champion for students! She was so hard working and dedicated to bringing the business and education communities together — not just for dollars, but for mentorships and “people” support. She has been missed since her retirement; she will now be missed in life! Dianne Smith, GPEMC
Dr. Marvene Lobato
Debbie paved the way for education to be a priority with our City of Phoenix Mayors and Council members. Debbie knew that the private sector needed to have a first-hand look at public education. When she initiated the principal for a day event, it provided a meaningful dialogue between the private sector and public educators. This event continues today and has expanded. Our school district, Fowler Elementary School District, has initiated our own principal for a day event with our business partners. Although they are supporters of public education, the event provides them with an opportunity to see first hand the challenges faced by public educators. Thank you Debbie for being the voice for public education.
Thank you Debbie.
I love you. My heart is broken this evening reading about your passing almost 6 months ago. I was so busy doing everything you would of expected and where our last conversation left off. You are forever my Gym Boss. Your spirit and memory lives in my soul. Thank you for the time you gave me and conversations of motivation.