My high school and college classmate Pennie Werth died from Covid a couple weeks ago.
Pennie and me go way back – elementary school, anyway. In high school, we did the various high school plays together. And she played piano in the first band I ever got onstage with. It was in tenth grade, for a talent show, and Brenda Bassett, Troy and Dave Claude, Pennie and me played “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac, to a panel of judges who had last cared about popular music during the swing era, so we did not win, but it was unforgettable and enough fun to get me hooked on playing in bands – a monkey still on my back today.
She went on to be a special ed teacher, and a great one. She lived in the Houston area for many years, but she called me during the later years of the Pawlenty administration to ask about the then-governor’s “Super Teacher” program, which was going to pay high-achieving teachers six-digit salaries to do what they did well. It would have been great – she’d have been nearer her family – but I warned her, correctly, the MFT would have nothing to do with “merit pay”.
Even as a teenager, she had a sharp wit and a huge heart. And she kept it throughout her life.
I wasn’t the only one that noticed. This AP story came out around the time George HW Bush died, three years back (emphasis added):
Mourners had been lining up since 9 a.m. to attend the viewing. Among the first was Pennie Werth-Bobian, 56, a retired elementary school teacher from the Houston suburbs who first met Bush in the 1990s.
A friend cutting the former president’s hair at the Houstonian Hotel alerted Werth-Bobian, who stopped by and struck up a conversation. Bush asked that she return every month or so when he got his hair trimmed.
The second time they met, Werth-Bobian asked what she should call him, thinking “Mr. President” sounded too formal.
“‘Call me George,’” she recalled him saying.
“That’s what he liked about me: that I talked to him like I talked to my dad,” she said.
They often shared family stories. Many of his tales involved George W. Bush, who she inferred was his favorite. Once, she said, Bush talked about Robin, his 3-year-old daughter he lost to leukemia in 1953, and his eyes welled with tears.
Werth-Bobian was newly married when they met, and asked Bush for advice.
“He said he and Barbara were best friends,” she recalled.
I’m still young enough to see this sort of thing as terribly unusual.