The closest thing to a state funeral in the Glebe community will be the memorial service to be held for Penny Sanger on September 24 at 4 p.m. in the Glebe Community Centre. It will be a standing room only event and for good reason.
by Clive Doucet
Penny Sanger belonged to the in-between generation that was coming to maturity as the Second World War ended. Its accomplishments have been overshadowed by the much larger war and boomer generations that bracketed it, which is unfortunate, because it was the most optimistic, progressive group of people ever to grace the west; and Penny Sanger was a charter member. From that generation’s efforts much of the modern world was born.
Penny was 14 as the war ended and part of the generation whose youth gave it time to reflect on the failures of the old regimes and the energy to do something about it; and Penny did. From that generation came new ideas of world governance and economic development based on simple humanity. Penny and Clyde Sanger were convinced that a better future had to be anchored in social justice more than war, and their concept of justice was all encompassing. If they didn’t invent “think globally, act locally,” they certainly lived it in every way imaginable.
Justice didn’t stop at the Sanger front door but went out into the world. The first stop in the Glebe was just down the street at the community centre where Penny is best known for being the first editor of the Glebe Report; the first editions in 1973 were put together on her kitchen table. Those first years set the template for what our community newspaper has been ever since: independent, people focused, and a fierce defender of the community’s integrity.
Traffic planning and calming, heritage preservation, advocating for the city to respect its own building mass limitations, all these concerns first documented in Penny’s time endure to this day. Clyde reminded me that the first mayor to come into conflict with the Glebe Report threatened to sue the paper during Penny’s tenure as editor. And I can remember from my time as a city councillor several attempts to buy the Glebe Report out by a for-profit corporation – all of them fought off and the Glebe Report remains to this day community based, independent and not for profit.
Penny was independent and feisty as a friend, canoeist and investigative journalist herself. She wrote Blind Faith, a book in which she exposed the storage and harmful environmental practices of Eldorado Nuclear in her hometown of Port Hope. She was also in some ways a traditional wife. She moved with Clyde to Manchester when he went to work for the Manchester Guardian, and their first two boys, Richard and Matthew, were born there. They moved to Nairobi when Clyde became the Guardian’s staff man in Africa, bringing two more boys, Toby and Daniel, into the world in Kenya.
A new world order was struggling to define itself, including Africa where Penny and Clyde had front row seats: the Suez Crisis, the invention of a UN Peacekeeping Force, the emergence of African nations from colony status to independent, democratic nations. During their African years, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi all assumed independent status. Clyde was absorbed by the demands of the job as a journalist, and his travels often kept him away from home, but Penny was there managing and absorbing the demands of their Kenyan home.
When they first moved into their Nairobi house, it was suggested that they fire the gardener because it was rumored he was a former Mau Mau insurrectionist. They didn’t, and he became an important caregiver for their young boys. That’s Penny and Clyde: generous in judgment, caring in action.
When you look at the community action that Penny undertook, what strikes you is not only the number of causes, but that they are all concerned with peace and social justice. They’re not easy charities to hang your hat on. Her instincts took her to the hard places.
She coordinated Canadian Friends of Burma with Murray Thomson after a thousand students were killed in Rangoon by the military. It was at a time when a military junta had hermetically sealed Burma (sounds familiar?) and the people there needed every friend they could get. She went on to help lead several other campaigns: The “Make Room for Peace” exhibit at the newly built War Museum, and Educating for Peace, a two-woman campaign to get peace studies taught in high schools. Getting to a new world order is no easy task but if you listen to the voice and life of Penny Sanger, all the elements are there – environmental responsibility, peace, social justice and inclusive, independent communities.
Life is filled with little moments. It is the ebb and flow of these little moments that are most remembered and Penny’s life was happily filled with many. Some of mine are feeding the birds with her in the backyard and singing. These will be remembered at a memorial service for Penny at the Glebe Community Centre on September 24 from 4 to 6 p.m. It will be as close to a state funeral as anything can be for the community. I will remember Penny as a great citizen and happily Clyde still is, and not just of the Glebe but of the world.
Clive Doucet is a former city councillor for Capital Ward and lucky enough to be a friend of Penny and Clyde Sanger.