Professor Emeritus Norman Penner was a Glendon mainstay

Professor Emeritus Norman Penner, a mainstay of York’s Glendon campus, died on April 16 at the Veterans & Community facililty at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. He was 88. Professor Penner (“Norm” to the Glendon community) is described by his colleagues as a first-rate scholar and a fine teacher, and was part of the Glendon campus for more than 20 years.  

Right: Professor Norman Penner

Prof. Penner was born in Winnipeg in 1921 and graduated from high school in 1937. He did not begin university until much later, preferring to begin his adult life from 1938 to 1941 as a full-time officer of the Winnipeg branch of the Communist Party of Canada. From 1941 to 1946 he served with the Canadian Army which included two-and-a-half years of overseas combat duty. On his return to Canada in 1947 he again returned to his duties as a full-time officer with the communist Labour-Progressive Party, which was formed in 1941 after the Canadian Communist Party was officially banned.

After the abortive Hungarian revolution in 1956 and Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” at the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of that same year, Prof. Penner had had enough of totalitarian politics and resigned from the party. He then turned to something completely different, working as a self-employed manufacturer’s sales representative until 1971. In 1964 he decided to go back to school part time and graduated with a BA from the University of Toronto in 1969. He took an MA in 1971 and a PhD in 1975 from the same institution. HIs Glendon career began as a part-time lecturer in 1972; he was granted a full professorship in 1978 and received professor emeritus status in 1990. He taught at Glendon as a senior scholar until 1993.

Most of Prof. Penner’s writings have been about the Canadian left. He edited and introduced Winnipeg 1919: The Strikers’ Own History of the Winnipeg General Strike (1973). He published a volume on The Canadian Left: A Critical Analysis (1977) and wrote three chapters and edited Keeping Canada Together Means Changing Our Thinking (1978). He published Canadian Communism: The Stalin Years and Beyond (1988) and From Protest to Power: Social Democracy in Canada 1900 to Present (1992). In addition, he has written many articles as well as chapters in books and reviews. He contributed often and ably to many scholarly conferences and gave of his time and wisdom for numerous radio and television interviews. In his later years he turned to drawing cartoons of various political figures and events.

Reflecting on his communist party memberships from 1937 to 1956 and his subsequent apostasy in 1957, Prof. Penner once commented that he spent the first half of his life being attacked for being a communist and the second half of it for not being a communist.

Prof. Penner was the son of Jacob and Rose Penner and brother to Roland, Ruth and Walter. He was married to Norma Lipes for 67 years. The couple had four children: Steve (Mary Ellen Marus); Joyce (Herman Parsons); Gary (Marlene Kadar); and Bob (Shaena Lambert).

A memorial will be held on Sunday, May 3 at 2pm in Glendon Hall on the Glendon campus. Donations in Prof. Penner’s honour may be made to Doctors Without Borders and The Council of Canadians.

Submitted to YFile by Terry Heinrichs, professor of political science, Glendon