Elisabeth Pendreigh "Penny" Work

- July 21, 2023

Madison County resident Penny Work passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on July 21, 2023. She was 68 years old and had been in good health, walking multiple miles each day with her devoted standard poodle, Petey.

Penny was born in Washington, D. C., the second of five children, to parents who prized education and made sacrifices to send their children to great schools. She attended National Cathedral School (“NCS”) from fourth through twelfth grades. She then attended Princeton University, graduating Summa Cum Laude in three years. After a year in the D.C. workforce “tasting real life” as she called it, Penny earned a masters’ degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a PhD in French Medieval Literature from Princeton. Thereafter, she taught, first at the college level, then happily returned to NCS. For 18 years at NCS, Penny taught history, literature, and ethics, and performed significant administrative duties.

In 1986, Penny, her husband, Peter, and their two young children, Kelly and Harlan purchased a farm in Madison County where they spent weekends, summers, and holidays. Penny loved the farm and often spoke of living there full-time. At a dinner in 2005, Penny sat next to the Chair of a Grymes Memorial School search committee seeking a new Head of School. Grymes, a pre-K through 8 independent school, presented a challenge and opportunity for Penny to become a community leader, and it was just 10 miles from the farm. She applied for the job, was hired, moved to the family farm, and was privileged to lead Grymes for 13 years, until her retirement in 2018. Peter continued to spend his weekends at the farm until he retired and moved down full-time. In all, Penny and Peter have shared the farm with their children for 37 years.

Since retiring, Penny translated a French novel, studied Ancient Greek, wrote a history of Grymes for the school’s 75th birthday, served on the boards of the Madison Boys & Girls Club and The Blue Ridge School, consulted on Grymes fund-raising, joined a warm and wonderful Madison ladies book club and the Dolly Madison Garden Club, and enjoyed her five grandchildren.

From childhood until her last day, Penny was both a student and a teacher. She sought knowledge with childlike curiosity and shared her ideas and values with those around her. She had a poem, a song, or one of her grandmother’s sayings for every situation, and these playful maxims have taught those she touched to be kinder, gentler, and more generous. She was the heart of her family, loved us all, and lived life with unbridled joy. She was our light and our center, and we will love her forever.

Penny is survived by Peter, her loving husband of 47 years; her mother, Barbara Moriarty of Orange; her daughter Kelly Steele of Annapolis, M.D., Kelly’s husband, John, and their children Emily and Charlie; her son Harlan Work of Madison, Harlan’s wife Sarah, and their three daughters; Ailith, Viola, and Eowyn; her siblings Peter and Andrew Moriarty of Orange, Cynthia Moriarty of Bloomington, Indiana, and Stephen Moriarty of Port Angeles, Washington.

A memorial service will be scheduled in the near future. In lieu of flowers, please contribute to your favorite educational charity or to the endowed fund that Penny created at Grymes Memorial School upon her retirement, The Work Family Fund.