Retired Alexandria Fire Chief Milton Thompson Penn, Jr, 82, died Saturday, Sept. 18, 2004, at his boyhood home on Shooters Hill, Alexandria, after a lengthy battle with rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. He served as Alexandria's fire chief from 1972 to his retirement in 1976, which culminated a 27-year career with the department.
Born May 13, 1922, Penn served in the U.S. Navy during World War II aboard the USS Hornet and USS Wasp as the radioman to Admiral J.J. Clark in the Pacific Theater. He attended Maury Elementary School and George Washington High School, which he left in 1942, after tending to his dying mother, to join the U.S. Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was discharged in 1946.
During his tour of duty he was transferred to the Wasp with Admiral Clark after the Hornet was damaged by a Japanese attack and "The Flag" was transferred to the Wasp. This was done by sea basket during the Pacific campaign.
UPON HIS DISCHARGE, Penn returned to Alexandria and became a bronco buster at Boyd's Stable in the city. During his career as a cowboy, he competed in local rodeos prior to his volunteer firefighter days with Station 202 as a member of Rescue Squad #1 and Potomac Truck and Engine Company #2 in Alexandria.
Penn's formal Fire Department career began on Jan. 1, 1949. He became chief in 1972. He was responsible for the opening of several new fire stations and the development of the original Northern Virginia Mutual Aid Agreement among the various jurisdictions. On the lighter side he was an avid fast pitch softball player for both the fire department and his church team.
Penn was active in the International Association of Fire Chiefs and served as president of the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association in 1976. He was a founder of the Alexandria Fire Department Credit Union. Penn's dedication to the fire service included his service as a member and leader of the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association, founded in 1774 and known as George Washington's Fire Company.
As a trustee of the Friendship Fire Engine Association, Penn helped establish the Friendship Scholarship Fund. He was also a member of the City of Alexandria Retired Police, Fire and Sheriff's Association, Inc., American Legion Post 24, Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie 871, Andrew Jackson Lodge No. 120, Fraternal Order of Elks, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a life member of the Order of DeMolay, the Scottish Rite, Kiwanis, and Plankowner of the Aircraft Carrier Hornet Foundation.
PENN, WHO ATTENDED Westminster Seminary during his high school summers in preparation for the ministry, served his Methodist Protestant Church located on Braddock Road. He cut short his pursuit of the ministry with America's entrance to World War II and his enlistment in the U.S. Navy.
In his leisure time, Penn enjoyed fishing, hunting and family get togethers, picking crabs, shucking oysters and spinning tales camping on the beaches of Topsail Island, N.C., and Myrtle Beach, SC.., according to his family. His hobbies included raising rose and tulips and caring for his many pets.
On his birthday in 1949 he married Ruth C. Jones, a former Alexandria assistant voters registrar, who survives him after 55 years of marriage. She is joined by his loving and devoted family Caroline and John Frazier of Burke, Va.; Mark and Victoria Penn and Nadene and Michael Zuiderna, both of Alexandria; Cheryl and Lawrence Ricciardi of Chantilly, Va. He is also survived by his brother William and his wife Phyllis of Bel Air, Md., a number of loving grandchildren, and many devoted family and friends throughout the area.
Interment was private on Wednesday Sept. 22, following a viewing at the Wheatley Funeral Home on Tuesday, Sept. 21. Memorial contributions may be made to Friendship Veterans Fire Association Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 22505, Alexandria, VA 22304.