[Hpn] Son's Decade-Long Quest Ends in the Rubble;NY Times;10/25/01
Morgan W. Brown
Thu, 25 Oct 2001 10:01:22 -0400
Below is a forward of another article, this one featured in the NY Times,
about Richard Penny Jr.'s search for his father. This article has additional
information which may be of interest.
Thursday, October 25, 2001
New York Times <http://www.nytimes.com>
[New York City, New York]
New York Region News section
Son's Decade-Long Quest Ends in the Rubble
By NINA BERNSTEIN
Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
Richard Penny, top, searched for his father, Richard Penny Sr., above, for
years. Last week, he found out that his father had worked at the trade
--[End of photo caption]
For years, Richard Penny searched for the father whose name he bears. He
called every Richard Penny in the country with a listed phone number. He
posted queries on the Internet. Sometimes Mr. Penny, now a married man of 33
with small sons of his own, would drive from his home in Virginia to the
Brooklyn brownstone his family used to own, just hoping for word of the
emotionally troubled dad who wandered away more than a dozen years ago.
Last week, news of the father finally reached the son.
After a decade lost in a netherworld of homeless shelters and work programs,
Richard A. Penny, 53, had made it to a rented room and a steady job. But the
job was for the World Trade Center Recycling Project, and when terrorists
struck Sept. 11, he was collecting paper on an upper floor of the north
"I've been trying to find him for so long," said Mr. Penny, who only learned
of his father's fate after a reporter tracked the son down in a computer
records search. "It tears me to pieces to find out that that's how he was
living, and that he's dead now."
His father's employers at Project Renewal, the social service agency that
had a recycling contract with the Port Authority, say there is no doubt that
the senior Mr. Penny was one of two workers who perished in the attacks.
They were remembered in a memorial service sponsored by Project Renewal two
weeks ago — a service the junior Mr. Penny learned about only afterward.
In the eulogies that day, and in the files of half a dozen agencies that
found him temporary jobs or shelter, the father was remembered as a quiet,
hard-working man who had been long separated from his wife and only child —
a grown son whose whereabouts the father did not know how to discover.
In the years when the son was passing proud benchmarks of success — college,
six years in the Marine Corps Reserves, marriage, three children and a
management career with a national restaurant chain — the father was caught
in a downward spiral of shelter cots and street corners. His life was
haunted by a youthful bout with drugs and a 1975 prison term, and by his
mother's death years before.
"I would have taken him home in the drop of a hat," said Mr. Penny, who
drove to New York last week with his wife, Monika, and the youngest of their
three sons, Kyle, 5.
They came not only to mourn, but to try to piece together a vanished life.
For the son, it seemed the last chance to connect in some way with the
beloved father he had lost at 18. At the very least, he wanted to make sure
his father was not counted among the hundreds who still have not had a
family member step forward to detail their lives or seek their remains.
"For so long I haven't known anything," Mr. Penny said. "At least now I'm
retracing his steps and finding out where the lost years took my Dad."
They arrived at 3 in the morning Friday to begin a bittersweet three- day
pilgrimage through the mysterious life and death of the grandfather Kyle
will never meet.
First they drove by the proud four- story brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant
where the senior Richard A. Penny grew up, beloved only son of an older
"Growing up, he was the star on the block," the son said. "The cleanest cut,
the straight arrow guy. He was valedictorian of his high school class, and
had so many college scholarship offers."
But he stayed home, married his neighborhood sweetheart, and worked as a
communications craftsman for AT&T. Then the blow came: he was accused with
neighborhood buddies of trying to hold up a token booth. His parents, Allie
and Inez Penny, a retired construction worker and a domestic for a Manhattan
family, mortgaged the brownstone to pay for defense lawyers. But the young
father, who admitted to having used narcotics, was convicted of the robbery
in 1975 and served 14 months.
"When he came home from jail, he was never, ever the same," the son
recalled. "He had basically become like a recluse."
The son moved to Virginia with his mother, who now lives in Atlanta. He came
back to visit, coaxing his father from the house.
"All I have is good memories of the time my dad and I spent together," he
said. "Long walks downtown to catch double features. Stopping by the pizza
shop. Playing handball. He never raised his voice to me."
The new crisis came in 1987. The father, then nearly 40, learned he had been
adopted, that his birth father was Jewish, his birth mother an
African-American acquaintance of the family. He angrily confronted his
adoptive mother, who died soon afterward. "He was so devastated he didn't go
to her funeral," the son recalled. The brownstone had to be sold; the new
owners evicted him. The family never saw him again.
On Friday, the son drove his minivan on the Brooklyn streets that his father
had walked after becoming homeless and losing a job as a factory helper in
1992. At the Hope Program, a nonprofit employment service in Brooklyn
Heights, Jon Bunge, the director of employment, pointed out a snapshot of
the father: a slim, light-skinned man with glasses, resplendent in a white
shirt and tie as he graduated from the "job-readiness" program in 1994,
having polished brass and scrubbed floors at a church for months.
His trail resurfaces in August 1996, in the records of Ready, Willing and
Able, which took over the Harlem Men's Shelter that year. The father, who
was sleeping at the shelter, told a caseworker that he wanted to establish
"normal family relations" with his son, then 28.
What were the barriers? the father was asked. His answer was noted: "Lost
communication. Must track down son."
But he never figured out how. Over the next couple of years, he continued to
cycle in and out of work programs. By the time he made his way back to the
Hope program in July of 1998, the father was in bad shape.
"We encouraged him to apply for public assistance," Mr. Bunge recalled. "He
just said, `Jon, I don't want to do it. If I apply I'm going to get into
that whole web. I just want to work. I just need a job.' "
Three years ago, another agency found him a bunkhouse bed in a Brooklyn
brownstone for $235 a month, and a $6-an-hour job recycling paper at the
In the conference room of Project Renewal, which runs the recycling project,
the son was handed the father's memorial program, his final paycheck and his
pension plan. He had saved $250 toward retirement, listing beneficiaries in
a careful hand: his estranged wife, and his son, Richard Penny.
The son, choking back tears, remembered where he was when his father died:
driving near the Pentagon, on one of his frequent business trips for T.G.I.
Friday's as manager of Mid-Atlantic recruitment.
Back in the family's home in Hampton, Va., Monika Penny had reached for the
small, tarnished flag pin her adoptive parents gave her. She was born of a
German mother and an African-American father, left at 2 in a German
"I was just hoping," she said, "that one of us would have a connection with
our lost parents."
The family's journey led on to the city's Family Assistance Center at Pier
94. There was a seven-page missing person report, questions about scars and
dentures, two swabs of the son's mouth for DNA.
Earlier, on the Brooklyn Heights promenade, Kyle had done a pirouette before
the skyline, exclaiming, "I'm in love with New York!" Now he leaned close to
his Dad. "I wish your father didn't work at the World Trade Center," he
whispered, "so he wouldn't be killed."
On Saturday, his parents took a ferry to ground zero with other grieving
families. "That was pretty rough," Mr. Penny said later. "Finding him and
losing him all over again, realizing I lost him for good."
But there was one more stop: his father's last home. It was night when they
arrived at 143 Lewis Avenue, not far from the family's old brownstone. This
one was a shabby place, with bunk beds crammed in old parlors. One of the 26
residents appeared with a plastic garbage bag. The father's name was on it.
The son had hoped for a memento, perhaps a book from a man who once listed
his best quality as a love of learning. But inside were old clothes, doubled
up gloves and hats, and two very old blankets.
It was Richard, instead, who left something for his father — a message,
taped like so many to a fence:
"Richard A. Penny, We Love You and Miss You! The Penny Family."
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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