First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia ~ Welcome home!

Willie Frances Smith Penn Johnson, 79, expired on December 15 2011 in Philadelphia, PA. She was the daughter of the late George W. and Arletha McArthur Smith and step-daughter of the late Cleveland B. Hairston. 

     Born in Winston-Salem, NC, Willie Frances was a member of Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church and graduated from Atkins High School in 1950. She matriculated at Hampton University, joined the Gamma Iota Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., married Marcellus H. Penn Jr., and became mother to Frankie Denise “Denny Penn”. 

     After graduation in 1956, she moved to Philadelphia, PA and for over 30 years where she was a bio-chemist, specializing in virology, at Merck. She also engaged in graduate studies at Wake Forest University beginning in 1963, and attended the School of Law at Temple University in 1978. 

     While in Philly, she began introducing herself to everyone as “Billy Penn”. In 1970, she married Charles E. “Chuck” Johnson, who predeceased her. She was an active member of First Unitarian Church and was a founding member of the Jazz Advocates and an officer of the Philadelphia Black Radical Congress. Most recently she enjoyed performing community service as a Reading Buddy with neighborhood elementary school students. 

     She is survived by her daughter, Dr. Frankie Denise Penn Powell, of Lumberton, NC. Missing their “Bubbeh”, as she wanted to be called, are her grandchildren, Omar and Remi Powell and their children Alana, Amir, and Malachi, of W-S, NC. She is also survived by sisters Gladene (Joseph, Sr.) Adams of W-S, NC, Rae (Eston) Cherry, Arlene (Donald) Gill, Leslie (Herbert) Shannon, Renaye Briscoe, Adrian (Sam) Denby; and one brother, Albert (Carolyn) Smith all of Baltimore, MD; nieces, nephews, and cousins; and her BFF in Philadelphia, PA, Thelma W. Anderson. 

     Memorial services will be held at 4pm Sunday, January 15, 2012 at Dellabrook Presbyterian Church, 115 Dellabrook Road, 27105 beginning with the Omega Omega Service of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. 

     A Celebration of Life will be held at 11am Saturday, February 25, 2012 at First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia,PA 19103. Memorials can be sent to the Frances Ellen Watkins Harper fund at First Unitarian Church.

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Comment by Anne Slater on January 11, 2012 at 12:23pm

Billy Penn was a member of two Ministerial Search committees, for which the other members were grateful! She was totally Cool.

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