Dr. Godfrey Pernell, widely known for his political engagement and civic participation, died on March 8 at the age of 98. Born March 21, 1922, the oldest son of Russian immigrants, Dr. Pernell was the quintessential first-generation success story. Growing up in Chicago in a family of modest means, he had an active and inquisitive mind and developed a life-long thirst for knowledge. He was interested in everything, but his passion was science.
During World War II, he practiced dentistry as a navy lieutenant. After the war, he traveled to southern California, where he met his wife of 58 years, Beverly Furst. They built their home in Rolling Hills, a place they both loved, raised a family, and were active in social and civic life. Dr. Pernell was a member of the Rolling Hills City Council and served multiple terms as mayor of the city.
A life-long progressive and supporter of labor unions, in 1954,
Dr. Pernell created the first pre-paid dental program in the country, providing affordable dental care to union workers. The company he founded, Dental Health Services, is headquartered in Long Beach,
California. He had no tolerance for racial injustice. In the 1950's
he won the Urban League award for the example he set with his multiethnic dental office.
He was a model of how to live a full and active life. He never stopped learning and trying new things. He enjoyed traveling, scuba diving, rare fruit, and cacti gardening. He was, among other things, an entrepreneur, a metal sculptor, pilot, restaurant owner, and amateur geologist. He read two newspapers a day and kept his mind challenged with Sudoku and crossword puzzles.
After he retired in his nineties, he helped create a local preschool at the Pacific Unitarian Church. He enjoyed spending time at his second home in Palm Springs, where he had a wide circle of friends. He was a mentor to many and generous with those in need. He had a great sense of humor and asked everyone he met for their best joke in exchange for one of his own. He would end a conversation with, "Do good stuff." A motto he lived by.
Godfrey was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Beverly, his daughter Deanne and sister Charlotte. He is survived by his sons, Gary, Wayne, Jeff Pernell, his daughters-in-law, Wilhemina, Shannon, Melissa, Jan, and Stephanie, his sister Estelle, his brother Marvin, eleven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
Donations may be made to www.fridaysforfuture.org
so others may have the opportunity to live as long and meaningful a life as Godfrey Pernell.
A memorial tribute recording is available at pacificunitarian.org