Penelope (Penny) Merritt Glassmeyer, builder, visionary, tenacious champion of good ideas and good people in ways big and small, died peacefully at home, in Darien, Thursday, Aug. 24, surrounded by her husband, Ed, her five children, extended family and friends. She was 82.
Penny was a longtime Darien resident and community leader for her redevelopment of downtown Darien, including, notably, Grove Street Plaza, and for her humble philanthropy.
Driven by a sharp intelligence, a no-nonsense efficiency and a fierce commitment to excellence in every detail, she combined an ability to spot talent and possibilities then assemble and lead a team of best-in-class craftspeople and workers to transform blights in our town to things of beauty, with passion, grit, humor and heart.
In doing so, she earned Darien/Norwalk YWCA Woman of Distinction honors in 2010 and played a key role in shaping the Corbin District, a venture in which she was a formative partner.
Born April 8, 1941 in Poland Mines, Pennsylvania to William John Woods Merritt and Emily Gans Merritt, the second of four children, Penny grew up in Larchmont, New York, Oshkosh, Wisconsin and Houston, Texas, as the family followed her beloved and adventurous father through a career in prospecting for uranium.
After his death, when Penny was just 16, the family moved to La Jolla, California and Penny assumed responsibility for her mom and siblings with wisdom and strength beyond her years. In 1959, she graduated from La Jolla High School, where, encouraged by her friends, she entered the Miss La Jolla beauty contest, placing third behind Raquel Welch.
She swam competitively-a harbinger of her lifelong passion for swimming in Long Island Sound. She also excelled in tennis, paddle and golf. She became a Life Master in Bridge as well. In 2011 and 2013, she was Bridge Player of the Year at Wee Burn Country Club.
Penny completed her freshman and sophomore year at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, then transferred to the more affordable University of California at Berkeley, signaling the selflessness, love and care for family that marked her life. She graduated from Berkeley in 1963 with honors and a B.S. in business and math. In college, she was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma and one of 40 Oski Dolls, the official hostesses and representatives of Berkeley in the 1960s.
In 1964, after marrying Ed in La Jolla, where she had met him the year before while he was training with the Marines, Penny moved to Bangkok to be near Ed when he was deployed to fight in the Vietnam War. There, far from home but undaunted, she taught math at the International School of Bangkok.
She and Ed moved to Darien in 1968 following Ed’s graduation from Princeton and Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, raising their five children in a home their school friends flocked to for street hockey and hanging out. Penny was famous for putting the friends to work on everything from stacking wood to raking leaves as she labored alongside them, teaching them the value of hard work.
Penny found her way to residential building in 1979 following years of remodeling her own home, as a way to leverage the team she had put together to work on other projects. Building was in her DNA. Both her uncle and grandfather developed properties in Westchester in the mid-1900s.
She began with affordable housing in Norwalk, purchasing apartment buildings where she was also the landlord, always with consideration for her tenants, ensuring they had places to live as she refurbished their apartments. In 1987, she moved on to residential real estate projects in Darien and New Canaan. In 2003, she tackled her first commercial real estate project, Grove Street Plaza, helping expand downtown Darien beyond the Post Road. She would go on to build 1292 Post Road.
In partnership with David Genovese (Baywater), she built 17 Old King’s Highway South and 745 Boston Post Road. She also built eight single family homes in Sun Valley, Idaho, where she was presented with the city’s Beautification Award in 1997.
Tough but fair, there is nothing Penny would not do to champion what — and who — she believed in: from the construction projects she took on, persevering through the tangled convincing it took in some cases to move them forward — to the people leading the businesses she brought to the spaces she built (now among some of Darien’s most iconic retailers, including NEAT Coffee, Flour Water Salt Bread, Darien Running and A Little Something White); to the Darien Firefighters Foundation she helped launch as a founding board member to support Darien’s three all-volunteer fire departments after her house burned in 1999; to those kids she put to work in her yard, the people she quietly helped throughout her life, the teams she assembled for her construction projects, her family and friends.
Penny believed in people and they loved her for it. As she said, “If you feel what’s right in your heart, and you’re persistent, eventually you will prevail.”
Penny is survived by Ed, her husband of 59 years; her five children: Edward “Ward” Merritt Glassmeyer (Carol) of Darien, Fellows Scott Glassmeyer (Pawinee) of Lampang, Thailand, William Shedd Glassmeyer (Jane) of Darien, Caroline “Carly” Glassmeyer Rosenberg (Daniel) of New York City and Emily Glassmeyer Grabowski (Robert) of Rowayton; as well as 13 grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Darien Volunteer Firefighters Foundation with checks payable to the Town of Darien Firefighters Foundation, 848 Post Road, Darien, CT 06820, or directly via PayPal – @TODFF . A celebration of Penny’s life will be held this fall.
— an obituary from Lawrence Funeral Home, where online condolences eventually may be left (condolences may also be left now on Legacy.com)