Compassion for her fellow human beings has been an enduring aspect of her career, her family life and her busy retirement. Here we follow her journey from growing up in Devon in the ‘60s, joining the police force, becoming a mother and grandmother – and now her vital volunteering role at ellenor.
Values Learned in Childhood
Penny was born in 1956 in Exmouth, the youngest of three children. Her childhood instilled a strong work ethic and a fundamental respect for others.
She said: “My childhood was lovely; we lived by the sea and my parents had a guest house. My dad was a landscape gardener and mum worked as a nurse in the village hospital. It was a good upbringing and I learned not to be scared of hard work.
“I also went to a girls’ convent school. If you have been taught by nuns, nothing much scares you in life after that! I left home at 17 to do a nursing course at college in Exeter, but although I enjoyed the bedside part, talking to patients and so on, I found I couldn’t cope with personal care. I think I was just too young.
“My sister had left five years before me to join the police, so I decided to follow in her footsteps. On April 8, 1974, I left home for good with three suitcases. I said goodbye at the station to mum and dad and off I went. I was just coming up to 18.”
A Career in the Police Force
Penny started her training at Maidstone because Devon and Cornwall Police did not recruit female officers.
She said: “I had never even heard of Kent, let alone been there. Luckily I made friends with another girl on the course and her family took pity on me and invited me to stay with them.”
In May 1975, Penny was made up to a police constable and during the subsequent 13-week training period she met her husband-to-be Tony.
She said: “At the end of 13 weeks I was a fully-fledged officer on two years’ probation, dealing with all sorts of things including traumatic events like fatal accidents. We always wore skirts, never trousers, and women didn’t work after 2am. We were often given missing persons cases, until they realised us girls were just as capable as the men. When equal pay came in, we were of course expected to work the same shifts as the men and do the same work.”
Penny and Tony were married in 1979 and bought their first house in Gravesend. When their daughter Charlotte was born in 1982, Penny gave up work as it was not possible then to have a part-time position in the Police Force. They later had a son, Christopher, and both children are now happily married with children of their own. Tony went on to complete 30 years in the Police Force.
Penny said: “People often say police marriages are very difficult to achieve, especially longevity, but Tony’s my best friend – I’m very lucky. My background in the police meant that I understood what it was like for him, which definitely helped. He did all sorts of things in his career including policing the miners’ strikes. Often I didn’t know if he would be coming back to us.”