This is a eulogy for a friend.
I first wrote about Penny in one of my early Sun columns in September 2010.
Back then she was plagued with lice and bedbugs at an apoplectic level, and her psychotic episodes were getting in the way of her accepting treatment.
When we eventually had the police take her to a hospital, she was put in a cab and sent back to Siloam Mission. She finally conceded and visited our onsite health centre, where we had to shave her head completely to get rid of all the lice and bugs.
Penny was a calm, mild and meek elderly lady who could never hurt a fly.
Although she rarely talked to anyone but herself, she was an impressionable spirit who put a smile on the face of all who were in the same room as her.
But life had kicked Penny to the curb, and she could be as stubborn and strong willed as a tough, hardened street gal.
When she wasn’t lucid, she talked in riddles. It was her defence mechanism when she didn’t feel safe.
Like most homeless people, Penny didn’t always live on the streets — she ended up on Main Street after her mental health illness robbed her of a future.
If you ever bought cosmetics at The Bay Downtown roughly 15 to 20 years ago, chances are Penny sold them to you.
For a long time she was a sales associate at the cosmetics counter, helping customers pick out products that made them look more attractive.
Penny herself was a woman of stunning looks.
We found a studio picture of her in the early 1980s, posing with a loved one for a family portrait. She looked gorgeous.
The Penny we know had a beautiful soul, a warm heart and an unabashedly soft smile she would show every now and again to let you know she was doing just fine.
But she was also the person who would forgo a shower for weeks at a time and wander the streets with unkempt hair.
Anyone who ever met Penny wanted to be her friend.
When we noticed that Penny’s skin colour began to change in the early days of September, she once again refused treatment.
Sometimes your friends know what’s best for you. For the first time, we applied to get a court order to legally force her to check into a hospital. Cancer had spread all over her body.
Penny passed away on October 24, 2011.
At the time of passing, she was surrounded by volunteers of Siloam Mission who stayed by her bedside in shifts until her battle with cancer — and severe mental health illness — came to an end.
Penny will be lovingly remembered by her husband Roger, son Shayne and brother Jim.
Penny was buried beside her mother’s grave in Plumas, Man., in the family plot.
Her legacy may not be what she achieved, but what she survived.
She may not be remembered by what she said, but the people whose lives she touched will never forget how she showed undeterred love and affection.
She was a hero of character.
— Floyd Perras is executive director of Siloam Mission