Penelope Reed Doob, August 16, 1943–March 11, 2017

Penelope Reed Doob

Penelope Reed Doob

Penelope Reed Doob died peacefully on March 11th, in Toronto, Ontario, after a long and brave battle with Parkinson’s disease. A member of Pemi’s Board of Directors, she was 73 years old.

Penelope was the granddaughter of Pemi co-founder Dudley “Doc” Reed and his wife Clara Jane, the daughter of Tom and Betsy Reed, and sister to Tom Reed, Jr. She spent all of her early summers at Pemi before going off to Camp Interlaken, first as a camper and then as a counselor. Pemigewassett was nevertheless her first love, and on her last visit to Wentworth in the summer of 2015, she made it clear that it was her favorite spot on earth – this from someone whose many travels had taken her as far afield as Australia. Aside from her role on the Pemi Board, she contributed directly to the camp program for decades, first helping Betsy with our annual Gilbert and Sullivan productions and then taking over as producer and co-director of the lively operettas.

Beyond the Baker Valley, Penelope was a Professor of Dance, English Literature, and Women’s Studies at York University, where she also served as Chair of the Department of Dance, Associate Vice President of Faculties, Associate Principal of Glendon College, and Academic Director for York’s Center for the Support of Teaching. Her teaching and research areas encompassed Medieval and Renaissance studies, dance history and criticism, sexual stereotypes in opera, literature, and dance, and non-fiction writing. She published three books: Nebuchadnezzer’s Children: Conventions of Madness in Medieval Literature; The Idea of the Labyrinth from the Classical Period through the Middle Ages; and, with Charlotte Morse and Marjorie Woods, The Uses of Manuscripts in Literary Studies. She also co-authored legendary Canadian principal dancer Karen Kain’s autobiography, Movement Never Lies.

Penelope’s reviews and feature articles appeared in publications such as the Toronto Globe and Mail, the Ottawa Citizen, Dance Magazine, Ballet News, Performing Arts in Canada, and Ballet International. She developed more than 20 documentaries for the CBC Radio program, The Dance, and wrote extensive historical program notes for the National Ballet of Canada.

A graduate of The Lincoln School in Providence, Rhode Island, Penelope went on to major in English Literature at Harvard University, where she graduated summa cum laude. She took her doctorate at Stanford University, her dissertation there becoming her first book, on medieval madness. Among her academic honors, she was the recipient of Woodrow Wilson, Kent, and Guggenheim Fellowships. Despite a lifelong fascination with the arts, she was also keenly interested in the sciences, and was a founding President of Reed McFadden, a medical research company focusing on HIV/AIDS.

Despite her singular academic abilities and professional accomplishments, Penelope was as proud of her family’s involvement with Pemi as she was of anything in her life. An aficionado of international opera and ballet, she was as happy to watch mealtime singing in the mess hall as she was to watch Placido Domingo or Natalia Makarova perform at Covent Garden. As brilliant and engaged as Penelope was, she was also patient and caring. She was principled but never doctrinaire, inspiring but never condescending, a most serious person who could, oh so often, be seen laughing on the very edges of bodily control. As her resume suggests, she was never afraid to try something new. If you are willing to imagine the Pemi Kid as a girl rather than a boy, she could easily have been the model. We are richer for her presence and will miss her greatly

Plans for commemorating Penelope are still taking shape. We will pass them along as they become clearer. The family has decided that donations in Penelope’s memory might be directed towards The Parkinson’s Foundation, The Humane Society, and Public Broadcasting (PBS or NPR). All were organizations in which she believed and which she supported over the years.

~Tom Reed, Jr.


28 thoughts on “Penelope Reed Doob, August 16, 1943–March 11, 2017

  1. Tom: My thoughts are with you, and your family, my Father had Parkinson’s, and I am very aware of the issues facing the patient-Frank Dodd

    • Thank you, Frank. It’s a wretched disease to cope with, for sufferer and family alike. What character she showed throughout, though! And what unlooked-for opportunities for those who loved her to rally around in support. It’s very much one of those out-of-bad-comes-good things, despite the very real anguish. You’re good to think of us. Tom

  2. Dear Tom,
    Thank you for your beautiful tribute to Penelope, and my condolences on her demise. I never had the pleasure of knowing either her or you, but I knew Tom and Betsy well (and of course the four Docs). My time at Pemi was so meaningful that I appreciate the opportunity to keep in the loop.
    Best wishes to you all.

    • Thank you for your message, Bob. It’s buoying to be hearing from so many members of the Pemi family, those we knew directly and those who we feel we know only because they shared in the whole, transformative Pemi experience.

  3. Tom and family,
    Peg and I send you our condolences on the passing of your sister. She was always an interesting person to talk to and we enjoyed her visits to Pemi. Please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers. Take comfort in the memories you share.
    Tom and Peg Herrick

    • Thank you, Tom and Peg. The memories you mention are flooding in, many from my own recollections, as many from the scores of people whose Pemi lives she touched, “Interesting” she was. More remarkable, perhaps, was how “interested” she was as well. Her profound curiosity played such a role in her professional successes. But it also led her to establish open and productive dialogues with everyone from university chancellors to cleaning ladies. So many things mattered to her, and she had a positive impact on an impressive number of them. Hope all’s well with your entire family. Tom

  4. Tommy-thank you for your beautiful tribute. Amongst the many images of Penelope stored in my head, the ones of her riding up the hill, perched on the back of the golf cart stand out. It was her playful side…the one that allowed her to make a game out of necessity. Then there was the time I got to spend in Toronto with her during the difficult time a few years ago. It was my chance to see her in the glorious world that she inhabited there. It was a rare privilege.

    • And thank YOU, Larry, for renewing that image of Penelope riding on the back of the golf cart like something out of “Star Wars: The Revenge of the Four Docs.” I think that notion of making a game out of necessity gets at the heart of her wonderfully stoic attitude towards her mounting physical challenges. Tom Sr. once said he couldn’t imagine getting old without a sense of humor, and I think Penelope always answered with an “Amen!”

  5. Tom,
    Please know our prayers and condolences are with you. Two memories of Penny stay with me. In 1955 Doc Nick confined me to the infirmary, then recuperation on the Hill. Penny, your mom and I sat on the porch chatting for hours. It hastened my recovery. Then, a couple summers later, I was stage manager, or some role like that, for “Pirates” and worked with her and Betsy to make a great performance. We will miss her.


    • Thanks, Jon, for sharing your memories. I think I remember your sojourn on the Hill in ’55 — Peter Fauver and I were only day campers that summer, so we also spent a lot of time up on the hilltop. It’s so like both Betsy and Penelope to have wanted to ease your stay a little, my shy sister made more comfortable, probably, by my more gregarious mother taking the lead. But Penelope was a kind soul, and I’m sure she also loved the chance to chat with a real attendee of the camp she would dearly love to have attended herself. Fortunately, in later years, she found a real place for herself at Pemi, and we all profited from her fuller involvement. Again, thanks for the message.

  6. I was so pleased to get to know Penelope better in my last years on the counseling staff in the mid-1990’s as her visits to Pemi became more frequent and longer-lasting. We especially shared the joy of The Mikado in 1997, and she became my biggest cheerleader–perhaps a bit too much so, as she gently insisted that I perform the Mikado’s patter song at every subsequent reunion Vaudeville. I was most touched by–and grateful for–her interest in both my wife and daughter, “Eve’s disturbing daughters” both, whenever we came to visit. She went out of her way to welcome them warmly and strike up a conversation on topics ranging from ballet to Masai Barefoot Technology shoes. We will always fondly remember her gentle wit and warm spirit, an invaluable member of the Pemi pantheon. Thank you, Penelope, and countless numbers of us are certain that you are wearing a crown even as we speak.

    • Thanks for your posting, Rob. Unbeknownst to many, Penelope loved, in playful moments, to rage in the very same ways she encouraged you to rage as The Mikado. Just ask her nephew Dan. And on the Masai Barefoot Technology Shoes, you nail one of her obsessions there. She was helpless to resist any technology that was touted as getting us closer to nature. Go figure!

  7. I am very sorry to hear of Penelope’s passing. I didn’t know her that well, but she was very nice. (She is the only person I have ever met face to face, with that name) I first saw her my third summer as a Pemi camper in 1975. She had come back to camp, after her leg was broken in England earlier that summer. I met her for the first time, at the 80th reunion in 1987. She read a Bean Soup article, women at Pemi. The first 50 years. I also spoke with her at other reunions since then. At the 105th reunion in 2012, she participated in the Banquet Grace. Al Fauver (Then 97) participated in it too. I also saw on the Facebook page, she was leading the singing in Mess Hall. The song everyone was singing was Hail to Ohio. One of Doc Nich’s favorite songs as I remember. I do extend my most dearest and deepest sympathy to the Reed family. And when the battles over, she shall where a crown. In the New Jerusalem. (The Kingdom of Heaven)

    • Thanks, Derrick. Yes, 1975 was a hard year with Penelope sustaining an awful leg fracture when she was hit by a car in London. She was never again able to move as lithely as she had in her youth and early adulthood, but she soldiered on through a half-dozen operations and bone grafts and was skiing again by the 80s. She saw adversity as a challenge and bore herself always with a quiet determination and great courage. Hers was a spirit to marvel at (even though she would have wanted me to say “at which to marvel”!!!)

  8. TRJr,

    I’m very sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family at this challenging time and I hope you are well. Thank you for sharing this difficult news on the Pemi Blog.

    I don’t believe I ever met Penelope, or that our tenures as camp overlapped (1990-93 for me), but our love of Pemi, its spirts, songs, performances, and humor–many of these traditions having been established and nurtured by men and women and Docs I never knew–unites us in spirit.

    For this audience, I can’t imagine a more foreign concept or a more relatable description of your dear sister than, as you say, “If you are willing to imagine the Pemi Kid as a girl rather than a boy, she could easily have been the model.”

    All the best,

    • Thank you, Jeff. Maybe the best thing to say about her impact on me — the product of a boys’ camp, a boys’ school, and a men’s university (back then, anyway) — is that she taught me to think about Pemi’s utopian feel being what it was not because of its being a male institution but rather despite that. Derrick Bell writes about her “history of women at Pemi” just above. It was quite a document, and worth circulating more broadly. I’ll see what we can do.

  9. TRJR,

    I am at a loss of words Tom. I too have experienced the passing of a loved one from the complications of Parkinson’s. Your description of her “lucid” last moments brought back some memories that brought a tear to my eye.
    I don’t think I ever met Penelope, but I’m sure she was a wonderful person…beyond what you have written about her.
    With great warmth and love, Lisa and I send our prayers and good thoughts to you and your family. God Bless!


    • Thank you, Dave. I’m so glad what I wrote was able to give you a little hint of Penelope’s many virtues and charms. Had you known her, I expect you would be able to come up with more than I was able to muster.

  10. Dear TRJR,

    Tragic. I am so sorry for your loss. Our blessing from all of the Coles family to you and your family.

    Rick Coles

  11. Dear Tom,
    I am so sorry for the loss to our Pemi family. And thankful for what she helped us to be. Strephon, Lucy, Pirate, L. Christian Collins

    • Thank you, Christian. She loved the operettas, and especially teaching people who had never been on stage how to imagine themselves inside someone else’s head. Now more than ever, we all need to follow her lead in cultivating that capacity in others, well beyond Wentworth, New Hampshire. Tom

  12. Dear Tom and family,

    My son, Guy, the Pemi alum, sent this sad news. Penelope was a dear friend from at least 1970 and, indeed, the reason Guy got to have his wonderful Pemi years. She was a fierce, GOOD rabbit, whom I have missed a great deal since she hied off to Toronto.

    There is always a wish that one could rewind life to pick up where one left off with the best of the friends one had. The later it gets in life the more we feel that way, of course, but it hurts particularly with Penelope, who was from the first a true kindred spirit.

    Much sympathy to all the Reeds. I shall be thinking of Penelope and being thankfui for a life well-lived. Kate

    • Thank you, Kate. She took such pleasure in Guy’s coming to Pemi. I think it had a lot to do with not being able to attend herself. If she could bring the sons of people she loved, that was a powerful consolation. Tom

  13. Hi Tom. I just saw this on Facebook. I’m very sorry. My father in law just passed away on March 15 from Parkinson’s disease in Melbourne, so I can really relate. Best to you and Dottie.

  14. To Tom and Family:

    My deepest condolences on the loss of Dr. Doob. What a fascinating person, and a wonderful life spent in public service. While I regret that our paths did not cross sooner, you come from an amazing family. I continue to be amazed at your family’s accomplishments to society generation after generation. These accomplishments will remain long after we all part from this Earth.


    Richard L. Dana

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