La Jolla’s Gloria Penner Dies at 81 of Pancreatic Cancer; Legend at KPBS

Award-winning writer and host created many programs and was the face of public radio and TV.

Updated at 2 a.m. Oct. 7, 2012

La Jolla resident Gloria Penner, an award-winning KPBS journalist and talk-show host for five decades, died Saturday after fighting cancer more than a year, the public station announced.

Penner was 81, and had been on a medical leave of absence.

Pat Finn, a KPBS producer, told Patch that Penner died at home and will have a private burial Sunday at El Camino Memorial Park in Sorrento Valley.

Finn said Penner had pancreatic cancer—the same illness that took the life of fellow La Jollan Sally Ride in late July.

“Gloria was one of a kind,” said San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. “She was very charming, but once the interview started, she never pulled any punches. The term ‘softball’ was not in her vocabulary.”

KPBS General Manager Tom Karlo said: “In Gloria Penner, KPBS has lost one of its greatest assets. Gloria was the heart and soul of our organization for years. She knew local politics better than the politicians themselves and was a wonderful resource, both for the public and for the news staff. It is a sad day at KPBS.”

Karlo called Penner a powerful presence at KPBS and a trailblazer when it came to covering elections and political issues.

“She was a role model for and champion of women in broadcasting at a time when not many women were visible, especially in decision-making positions. ... She spearheaded those early efforts with her election specials. In fact, being interviewed by Gloria was sort of a ‘rite of passage’ for young, up-and-coming politicians.

“I am so honored to have had the opportunity to work with her for several decades—she taught me so much. KPBS wouldn’t be the same without her and neither would I.”

Laura Walcher of J. Walcher Communications said: “Certainly she was an absolute powerhouse. She was a great example to many of us—that you can do what you do in a man’s world without losing your femininity and grace. She made a major impact on every bit of society that she touched.”

KPBS said Penner was hired in 1969 as director of community relations after working as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn.

“She was the first in her family to attend college, urged on by her strong and independent mother, Ethel Stern, and a large, extended family of Russian Jewish immigrants,” KPBS said in a statement.

Over the years, Penner hosted That’s 30, San Diego Week, KPBS Weekend Edition, San Diego Business Week, Gloria Penner in Conversation, These Days, Full Focus and Ballot programs around elections. In 1998, she launched The Editor’s Roundtable.

KPBS said Penner won seven Emmys, five Golden Mikes, two Gracies from the American Federation of Women in Radio and Television, the San Diego Press Club’s Harold Keen Award for excellence in journalism—and the Living Legacy Award from the Women’s International Center.

The League of Women Voters of San Diego County established the annual Gloria Penner Award for Civic Service in 2003, and she was the first recipient, the station noted.

Her last broadcast was July 20, 2012, as host of The Midday Edition Roundtable, the station said.

Penner was not active on Twitter, but her account—despite having only 26 tweets—was followed by 1,139 people Saturday night.

Miriam Raftery noted in East County Magazine that her death came a week before the Women’s History Museum was slated to hold a special tribute to Penner at an Oct. 13 “Broads in Broadcasting” celebration at Liberty Station.

In a press release issued by the museum, Penner is quoted as saying: “In the 1970s, I was a vigorous believer that women needed better representation in business and society, and I worked hard to make that happen. I doubt my demeanor resembled the TV-film stereotype of the obedient, dutiful babe in the background.”

She is survived by Bill Snyder, her husband of 26 years, her sons Steve Penner of Tucson, Ariz., and Brad Penner of San Diego, and a granddaughter and grandson.

U-T San Diego reported that a public celebration of Penner’s life will be held, but a date was not disclosed.

—City News Service contributed to this report.

Harvey Feinman October 07, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Enjoyed listening to her world of knowledge and straight talk. She will be missed . Rest in peace my friend
Jennifer MacLaggan October 07, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Gloria Penner was a straight shooter, which we needed in local journalism. I loved listening every Friday to the editors' roundtable. San Diego has lost a treasure that was full of curiosity, intelligence and integrity.
Mike Gau October 08, 2012 at 11:07 PM
Another great woman taken from us, too early, by the devastating disease of pancreatic cancer. Visit www.pancan.org or www.purplestride.org/sandiego for more information on the disease or what you can do to join the fight against it.
stella October 13, 2012 at 10:38 PM
jen - pls see my private comment on ur old facebook page, stella!
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