Public figure remembered as activist, mentor and pioneer
By Morgan M. Hurley | SDUN Assistant Editor
News came Monday, Oct. 8 of the passing of Gloria Penner, a longtime local journalist whose trailblazing career of influence spanned more than fifty years.
Penner spent the last 43 years working for KPBS, the local public media outlet offered as a public service by San Diego State University, before succumbing to cancer on Oct. 6 after a two-year struggle. She was 81.
The organization released both a printed and a filmed statement on Penner’s passing, calling her a “broadcasting pioneer.” The television spot said Penner started her career at KPBS in 1989 as a community relations director, “a position she immediately abandoned for a camera and a microphone.” KPBS had been in operation for two years when Penner joined the station.
“KPBS would not be the same today if it wasn’t for the contributions of Gloria Penner,” said General Manager Tom Karlo in the printed statement. “Gloria was among the first staff during the formative years of KPBS. She has been an integral part of KPBS’ growth and change through the decades. We will miss her dearly.”
During her extensive career at KPBS, Penner held many different titles and positions by adapting to whatever was needed, and was “the first woman to reach a management position” at the station, Karlo said.
“Gloria was a true trailblazer at KPBS and in local news,” he said. “She led the way for women in journalism and set the standard for political reporting and election coverage – in-depth thoughtful analysis – that remains a priority for KPBS today.”
The station identified Penner as a champion of women’s rights, and a voice for not only women in the workplace, but all minorities. Her goal as journalist was to get “the inner thoughts and the outer struggles” of those she interviewed.
“I had the fortune to work with Gloria Penner for over 15 years,” said Monica Medina, the station’s director of diversity. “In that time, I found her to be a mentor, a visionary and a staunch supporter of the KPBS mission. She was a true pioneer, not only for all women, but all striving for the American Dream. More importantly, Gloria was devoted to San Diego and its diverse communities. She believed in equal rights for all.”
Longtime lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), and political activist Gloria Johnson shared her memories of Penner as well, calling her an “early female voice” on radio. “I had the privilege of meeting Ms. Penner once when she came to [the then called] San Diego Democratic Club for a special event,” Johnson said. “We found her to be a supporter of LGBT rights and a friend to all of us. She will be missed.”
The San Diego-based Women’s Museum of California, led by Executive Director Ashley Gardner and board President Anne Hoiberg, also released a statement on her passing.
“With a heavy heart, we thank Gloria for being an inspiration to all of us and for her dedication to upholding the highest principles of journalism. Her many contributions to the people and community of San Diego will live on,” they said.
A special tribute to Penner will be included in the Women’s Museum of California’s “Salute to the Women of Broadcast History” program, to be held Nov. 9 at the McMillin Center in Liberty Station. For more information about the tribute, visit womensmuseumca.org.
Penner and her distinctive voice worked as long as possible, despite her illness. Her last broadcast was July 20, 2012, as the mid-day host of the Editor’s Roundtable, a program she created in 1998.
She is survived by her husband, Bill Snyder of La Jolla, Calif. and two sons, Brad Penner of San Diego and Steve Penner of Tucson, Ariz. There will be a public celebration of Penner’s life at a future date.