Darby Penney (1952-2021)

Lost Cases, Recovered Lives:

Darby PenneyDarby Penney was someone I’ve known for over 30 years. I have no idea where or when I met her. Inevitably, it involved some social justice activity. And if Darby was expending energy on it, it was almost certainly worth pursuing. The action would involve “empowerment, inclusion, rights, and other topics,” as this 2007 bio describes.

She was mentioned, only in passing, once in this blog. It involved the abandoned suitcases of the people who had resided at the Willard Asylum in Ovid, NY in Seneca County. 

I wrote, “I remember a large article in Metroland about the New York State Museum’s 2004 exhibit ‘Lost Cases, Recovered Lives: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic’, curated by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny.” She was extremely excited about that project.

Importantly, Darby was a librarian, and she used her many skills in the most amazing manner. She was SO impressive.

Sometimes, I get behind in reading the daily newspaper. So it wasn’t until October 30 when I read the lengthy obituary in the October 21 newspaper, referring to her October 11 death. I was gobsmacked.

You should read the obit, as it is amazing as she was. Primarily, she was “a long-time activist in the movement to protect the human rights of people with psychiatric disabilities.”

Three score and eight

I was in shock because I figured that Darby would be one of those insistent people in her 70s and 80s and maybe 90s causing what the late John Lewis called “good trouble.” But she was 68, my age.

The last time I talked with her was in the first months of the pandemic, in the spring or summer of 2020. I called Darby on the telephone to check how she was doing. She was still grieving the death of her husband of 30 years, Kenneth Denberg.

That said, she still had a gritty optimism about making a difference. But she was no Pollyanna. She indeed had a “fiery outspoken nature.” Yet, she could be very funny, occasionally poking gently at my expense. You can do that with your friends.

So I didn’t even know she was sick. I’m sorry for my sake more than hers. For I’m sure she had a coterie of folks caring for her. And I’m unsurprised that she was cremated because she wouldn’t have wanted a frilly casket. I hope to attend the memorial service when it takes place.