Elizabeth Dunbar McGinn
January 4, 1939 – June 25, 2020
Elizabeth Dunbar McGinn
Elizabeth (Penny) Dunbar McGinn, 81, passed away at Georgetown Hospital, Washington, DC, on June 25, 2020. Penny was born on January 4, 1939, in St. Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Robert Hendon and Ruth Perham Hendon. She lived in several cities growing up as her father, an FBI agent, moved from one field office to another, before eventually settling in Westchester, New York. After graduating from Mamaroneck High School, Penny attended Vassar College (Class of 1960), where she majored in philosophy.
In 1961 Penny married MacDonald Dunbar Jr. and soon had two children. The young family lived happily in Westchester (Port Chester) and for a time, memorably, in Puerto Rico. Mac passed away from illness in 1969, leaving Penny to raise her two young children by herself. The family trio, based in Rye, developed an incredibly close bond, always laced with humor. Her children teased her about her breakfast specialty “Penny Toast” (toast burned to a crisp) and her determination to hit the high-note in her Annie medley. But beneath the teasing was an awed recognition of her unshakeable love. As the children grew, Penny would spend countless hours hand-sewing fantastical Halloween costumes and concocting dramatically themed birthday parties, including a neighborhood favorite recreating the Apollo moon landing.
From Mac, who had been a banker, and through self-study, Penny learned the ins and outs of the stock market. She followed the market throughout her life and became a successful private investor. Penny was also an early apostle of aerobics and, starting in about 1980, built a home studio business from scratch. Passionate about her choreography and the music selections she would diligently tape from the radio, she continued to teach classes for more than thirty-five years.
With her 1984 marriage to Col. John McGinn, Penny started a new, beautiful chapter that included John’s sons, as well as, eventually, the sons’ spouses and children. Penny and John settled in the tight-knit Palisades community of Washington, DC, and quickly became neighborhood stalwarts. Their boisterous Fourth of July barbecues were legendary.
Always a locus of activity for friends and family, their home assumed even greater prominence with the arrival of a string of grandchildren—eight living locally—starting in 1996. Easter, Thanksgiving, and especially Christmas—which Penny planned for year-round—brought scads of family and friends around a table (or two). Burned toast was banished in favor of gourmet feasts sufficient to feed a small army.
Penny played an integral role in raising her grandchildren, all of whom benefited from grandma sleepovers and swimming outings. Penny’s patented rearing method of grandma-instigated pandemonium—encouraging any and all experimentation and basement messes, using fancy dishes for Coca Cola tea parties, and utterly disregarding societal norms regarding nutrition and safety—endeared her to her wards, as did her over-generous gift-giving and stocking-stuffing.
When Penny needed to recharge, she traveled. Penny and John, before he died in 2013, roamed the world together, often taking a major trip—Alaska, New Zealand, or somewhere in Europe—annually. Penny also enjoyed regular visits to her son in Portland, Oregon, and to her daughter’s family in Paris for the handful of years they lived there. Penny liked to play the slots at Charles Town, doted on her “genius” dog Will, and also managed to find time to write a musical about King Edward and Wallis Simpson—a project she recently revisited at her wonderful home for the last fifteen months, Brighton Gardens of Chevy Chase.
Penny was a troublemaker in the best way, always questioning the basis of society’s “givens” and niceties. She was intellectually fierce, stridently independent, unbelievably resilient, and wickedly funny—the humor delivered with an unmistakable twinkle in her eye. Her wit, infectious laugh, and unstinting generosity will be more than missed by those fortunate to have known her.
Penny is predeceased by two husbands, MacDonald Dunbar Jr. and Col. (ret.) John J. McGinn; and a brother, Robert Hendon Jr.
She is survived by her son, MacDonald Dunbar III, of Portland, Oregon; her daughter, Katherine Dunbar, and son-in-law, Mark Levitch, of Washington, D.C.; her step-son, John G. McGinn, and daughter-in-law, Kelly, of Centreville, Virginia; her step-son, Michael J. McGinn, and daughter-in-law, Lena, of Fairfax, Virginia; and her grandchildren: Perham (Perry) and Esmé Levitch; Conor, Annika, Claire, Henrik, Ryan, and Sean McGinn; and Teal Crisafulli.
Family and friends will gather for a socially distanced visitation on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, 5:00–6:30 p.m., at Gawler’s Funeral Home, 5130 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, D.C. Interment will be at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the World Wildlife Fund.
Social Distancing Visitation
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Elizabeth Dunbar McGinn
July 3, 2020
I am sorry that I did not attend your gracious gathering last Wednesday because of my temporary health situation.
My dear friend Penny gave me more than the 30 years of exercise. We developed a wonderful friendship. Our conversations covered family, spouses, politics, and whatever was news of the day. For instance, 9/11 occurred while Penny and I were finishing our exercise, John informed us.
Penny and I met in the local library once a week to do research. For Penny it was the musical play she was writing and for me a paper I hoped to write on the history of international gun possession. But something very special happened to Penny that put an end to our meetings. Penny became a grandmother.
After her John and my Bob lost their lives, we still continued our exercise and long conversations.
It was the last class when she informed me of her medical condition. I was so happy she had such a wonderful family to take care of her evolving situation. One cannot find a more loving and caring family who she admired, loved, and was happy to be with.
Dear family, I would like to invite you to a dinner in a hopeful non Covid future to celebrate Penny. Also, my beach home is always there for you, Penny loved that house.
God has her now.