John Robert Penberthy Jr.
October 19, 1950 – February 2, 2018
John was born on October 19, 1950 to incredibly loving and nurturing parents, Becky (Bernadine Beck) and Jack (John Robert Sr.) Penberthy in West Palm Beach, Florida. His sisters Karen and Linda followed as beloved siblings and playmates. As John wrote in his memoirs, he had a “blissfully happy childhood” which gave him a “strong sense of self-worth and security” that he carried throughout his life. John’s first memory was of being stung by a bee, which was auspicious given he would later write To Bee or Not to Bee.
John grew up in the hot, humid Florida climate mostly “shirtless and barefoot”, fishing and exploring in the Palm Beach canal, riding bikes, playing with neighborhood buddies, and marveling at shuttles being launched from Cape Canaveral, including Apollo 11. He was a Boy Scout and Eagle Scout, and an acolyte and usher at Redeemer Lutheran Church. While on a Christmas vacation at his cousin’s home in Litchfield, IL at age 11, John awoke to the magic of his first snowfall shouting, “It’s snowing, It’s snowing!” after which all the kids ran outside in their pajamas. His love of nature and deep commitment to the environment was cultivated at an early age. His family took a 7,000 mile driving vacation through five western national parks in the family’s Buick Special which was “indelibly stamped into memory.”
John inherited his father’s curiosity and adventurous spirit. For John’s 12th birthday present, his dad woke him up at 5am and drove him 60 miles to the Miami airport, where in his suit and tie, he boarded a Boeing 707 jetliner and made a 15-minute flight back to West Palm Beach, gaping in awe at the scenery from his aerial view. Never having flown before, John held this as the best birthday present of his life. John’s teen years were spent pulling countless pranks with his buddies, dating, surfing, sailing, golfing and working at Ranch’s Drug Store as a dishwasher and then delivery boy. His love of music was cultivated in the ‘60s, and at 13 John bought his first record, Meet the Beatles. His love of the Beatles and rock and roll followed him his entire life.
John earned a bachelor’s degree in business, and later an MBA from the University of Florida. On a serendipitous job driving a classic car out west, John’s vision of moving to Colorado was formed. John and his first wife Suzanne moved to Denver, where he became a marketing consultant at Browne, Bortz & Coddington and later the Denver Consulting Group. After divorcing and doing much soul searching, John began a path of self-discovery and spiritual awakening, exploring The Course in Miracles, visiting Sai Baba in southern India and studying Buddhism. He had a profound sense of equanimity later in life, through sickness and health, which he would attribute to the Buddha and Ram Dass.
John met Peggy (McSweeney) at a disco(!), and they were immediately infatuated with each other. After a four-and-a-half year courtship falling more deeply in love, John and Peggy were married on June 7, 1987, and spent their honeymoon in Ireland. They had an incredibly rich, fun life, doing workshops, traveling and connecting with dear friends. They spent two, adventurous years living in Jakarta, Indonesia where John was a project coordinator to fight childhood blindness for Helen Keller International.
On February 12, 1992, John and Peggy were deeply blessed with the birth of Erin Claire. She was an adorable, sweet, outgoing baby and brought tremendous joy to her mama and papa. John inherited his mom’s love of children and nurturing spirit. He cherished his role as a father, making up and telling Erin many elaborate stories, rough-housing, creating the “dot fairy” and endlessly smooching her up. During these years, John resurrected a spiritual allegory he’d begun years prior, To Bee or Not to Bee. John worked tirelessly to complete this inspiring book and to bring Buzz Bee to worldwide readers. To Bee or Not to Bee was published in 15 languages and sold over 100,000 copies. In 1993, John, Peggy and Erin moved to Southern Illinois where John fulfilled a dream of working for the Nature Conservancy as Project Director for the Cache River Bioreserve. John had a lifelong commitment to environmental issues which was demonstrated in his work, charitable giving, life practice and love for electric cars and Tesla.
In 1995, John was diagnosed with Hepatitis C which he fought valiantly for another 23 years. The silver lining in his diagnosis was that he became a fabulous stay-at-home dad; baking Erin homemade bread, picking her up from school, helping her with her homework, and together with Peggy, delighting in her parent-teacher conferences, soccer matches, dance recitals, school concerts, tennis matches and school functions. John instilled his spiritual depth, love of nature and adventurous spirit in Erin. He cherished his family, and they cherished him. They had a rich, beautiful life enjoying Christmas gatherings with family, traveling, hiking, skiing, watching CU basketball games, connecting with friends, and living life gratefully and fully. John’s greatest joy was to walk his beautiful daughter down the aisle and dance the father-daughter dance with Erin at her wedding in July, 2017. In his toast, he shared that being a father was the “greatest joy of his life”. John and Peggy were elated to welcome Danny Hiller, whom we love deeply, into the family.
John passed away gently and peacefully on February 2, 2018 after a year-and-a-half battle with liver cancer. Before his passing he was surrounded by family and friends at home, bathed in love in a sacred space. He is survived by his wife Peggy, daughter Erin, son-in-law Danny Hiller, mother Becky Eagan, sisters Karen Becker and Linda Orr, stepmother Norma Penberthy, nieces and nephews Stacy and Cico Rodriquez, Brian Orr, Arianna McSweeney, Liam McSweeney, grandnieces and nephews Eden, Judah and Cohen Rodriguez, and sisters and brothers-in-law Steve Orr, Kit, Ed, Ellen, Kevin and Mary Anne McSweeney, George Chakos, Debra Cherson, Greg Parker. John was a beautiful husband and father, teacher to us all, courageous warrior, and kind soul. We will forever be better for having had him in our lives.