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Alexis Maria McKinney Echols, 60, champion of the underdog.

She fought multiple sclerosis to do her work.

Alexis Maria McKinney Echols
Alexis Maria McKinney EcholsRead more

ALEXIS MCKINNEY had strong empathy for people who she believed suffered from society's various inequities.

She not only had empathy, she had the passion and drive to do something about it. Her focus was mainly on the problems of being African-American, but her embrace covered anyone she thought of as a victim.

"She was very committed to the community," said her brother, Frederick B. Phillips, a prominent Washington-based psychologist and social worker. "She was very committed to those she felt had experienced negative impact from society. She had the spirit and drive to help them."

Alexis Maria McKinney Echols, as she became after marrying Eric Echols, a woman who worked with agencies dedicated to the healing arts and courageously fought the gradually disabling disease of multiple sclerosis, died of MS on Dec. 14. She was 60 and lived in Germantown.

"She was a fighter, a champion of the underdog," said her cousin, Marisa K. Diaz.

At the same time, Alexis had a rich sense of humor, described by her cousin as having a "sarcastic and sardonic" edge.

Her brother said, "She could see the pain in others, but also the humor in situations."

Alexis had a radical bent in her youth. As a student at Gwynedd Mercy Academy in the '70s, she refused to hold her hand over her heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. Nevertheless, she was popular there, played basketball and was captain of the school's athletic association.

Alexis became an important part of her brother's Progressive Life Center Inc., working with a variety of programs, including adoption services, mental-health treatment and juvenile-justice concerns.

Phillips started the service in Washington in 1983. It now has offices in several cities, including Philadelphia, and in Ghana.

Alexis joined Progresive shortly after its founding and served as administrative assistant.

"That was her title, but she was far more than that," her brother said. "She was the spirit of the organization. She was someone you liked to be around because of her positive energy. She believed in our mission."

Alexis was born in Philadelphia to Thomas James McKinney and the former Flora Belle Carrier. She attended St. Madeleine Sophie Parochial School before going to Gwynedd Mercy.

Her family said she was bright enough to have picked any number of colleges, but chose Lincoln University in Oxford. She graduated in 1976.

Lincoln, her family said, "spawned in her an unswerving commitment to her culture and her community."

After graduation, Alexis moved to Houston, and worked as a reservation agent for Bekins Moving and Storage Co. She also worked as a reservation agent with Northeast Airlines. While there, she volunteered for community groups, including Liberty Resources, which works with the disabled.

Besides her brother, she is survived by a sister, Sharon Holley.

Services: Funeral Mass 10 a.m. today at St. Madeleine Sophie Church, 140 E. Mount Airy Ave. Friends may call at 9 a.m.