Memorial Service and Obituary: Penny Colgan-Davis

General Secretary, Governance, Peace & Social Concerns, Volunteering, Worship and Ministry

Date for Memorial–Saturday, July 21 at 10:00

A memorial service for Penny will be held Saturday, July 21 at Germantown Monthly Meeting, 47 W. Coulter Street, Philadelphia, PA 19144.

The service will begin at 10 AM. Contributions in her name can be made to the Kelly School Library Fund; c/o Germantown Monthly Meeting; 47 W. Coulter Str. Phila. PA 19144.

Contributions may also be made to the Ridgeway Scheirer Fund for Peace and Justice at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Mail to 1515 Cherry St.; Phila. PA 19102 to the attention of the Development Office.


Educator, activist, traveler, Joan Penny Colgan-Davis, 72,  passed away on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Diagnosed with melanoma in November of 2017, she battled the illness for 6 months, before dying at her home in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia.  Known as a leader in progressive education and active in the Philadelphia Religious Society of Friends, she brought innovative changes to a number of educational institutions and positively affected the lives of hundreds of students, parents and teachers throughout her long career. She is survived by her husband, John, her son, Evan, her brothers Tim and Tony, and her sister, Debby.

Penny was born in Wilmington, Delaware on October 21, 1945, and lived for many years in Arden, DE. Her parents were Tom and Joan Colgan. Born into a Quaker family, Penny grew up in a house and community that believed in social action. She was taken to Civil Rights Marches as a child, and that started her life-long concern with social justice.  When she graduated from Guilford College in 1967, she became an elementary school teacher at Philadelphia’s Miller Elementary School and taught for there for 6 years. Following the protracted teacher’s strike of 1973, she left the school district, saying, “We struck for weeks, and when it was over I was still 1 teacher in a classroom with 33 students. That was not good for the students or for me.” She also had some different educational ideas she wanted to try out, so she joined a parent-run cooperative school in West Philadelphia-the University City New School.

At the New School she helped develop curriculum that featured research projects powered by student questions, plenty of outdoor play and study time, hands-on learning, student designed art projects, and consciously working on building and maintaining a supportive community. These ideas were important ones to her, and they became hallmarks of her later work at other schools. For Penny, education had to be active, involving students in questioning, making knowledge, discovery, and community building.  Wherever she went she brought that vision into the lives of countless families.

Following the New School she was a lower school teacher at Friends Select School for3 years, eventually becoming the Director of Lower School for another 3 years. She also served as the principal of the Miquon School in Miquon, Pa for 11 years. From there she became the first head of the Russell Byers Charter School. Finally, she was Head of Frankford Friends School, from which she retired in 2015. At each place she worked she brought the vision and values she believed in and helped change each school in meaningful ways. Her influence was profound, and many of the programs and approaches she introduced can still be found in each of the institutions she led.

Retirement did not mean she was no longer involved with schools. At the time of her death Penny was organizer and leader of a group of volunteers who made the once closed library at the Kelly public elementary school in Philadelphia a vital part of the school. That project continues to grow and thrive. She was also an esteemed mentor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Aspiring Principals Program, helping to train future public and private school principals.

Penny was very active in Philadelphia’s Quaker Community. A member of Germantown Monthly Meeting, she took an active role in that meeting and eventually became clerk for the meeting. She later became clerk for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the organization representing Quaker meetings in the tri-state area. She took a role in the re-organization of the Yearly Meeting and was active in it until her illness made that impossible.

Penny was not just an educator and Quaker activist. She was an active person for whom the world offered opportunities to explore. She was a tent camper, a birdwatcher, a quilter, a lover of literature, and a gardener. She visited spots in Pennsylvania, in Canada, New Mexico and Arizona and more on birding trips with her husband.  She and John camped regularly in upstate New York, Maryland, and yearly outside of Kingston, Ontario. Her garden is a wildlife friendly habitat and a stopover for hummingbirds, butterflies, finches, wrens and more. She grew herbs and vegetables that found their way to her kitchen and eventually to her table. She was a member of both a cookbook club and a literary book club. She was also a member of the Mt. Airy Quilters and loved to visit quilt shows and shops whenever she traveled. And she was an active participant in the movement to connect kids with gardening, starting an outdoor garden at Frankford Friends.

Penny Colgan-Davis led a full and joyous life that directly affected many people in many ways. Her giving spirit, sense of purpose, and love of life touched people of all ages.  She will be well remembered and missed by many who were fortunate enough to know her. Her light shines brightly and casts a radiant glow.

A memorial service for Penny will be held Saturday, July 21 at Germantown Monthly Meeting, 47 W. Coulter Street, Philadelphia, PA 19144 from 10 AM until 1 PM. Contributions in her name can be made to the Kelly School Library Fund; c/o Germantown Monthly Meeting; 47 W. Coulter Str. Phila. PA 19144. Contributions can also be made to Ridgeway Scheirer Fund for Peace and Justice; Philadelphia Yearly Meeting; 1515 Cherry St.; Phila. PA 19102

Update July 7, 2108  — An additional obituary has been published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.