Dr. James Penny, V.M.D.
Longtime Philadelphia Park veterinarian Dr. James Penny dedicated his life to his career – which was more than just work, it was his love. His career in Thoroughbred racing spanned the history of the sport in Pa., starting with a position as track veterinarian at the old Liberty Bell Park in 1969.
Prior to the inception of horse racing in this state, Dr. Penny had served as track vet at Garden State Park starting in 1944 and later at Atlantic City and Monmouth. He also spent 10 years as vet at Delaware Park. All of this was in addition to his practice at 68th St. and Greenway Ave., which he continued until 1979. He also was vet at the Pennsylvania SPCA until racing began in this state.
“He wasn’t happy unless he had something to do,” said his son, James Mackey Penny, Jr. “Even when he wasn’t at the track or at his practice, he kept busy doing maintenance at home or at his summer place in Wildwood Crest. He was a pretty good carpenter and he had a complete set of tools that he carried around with him in the trunk of his car.”
The work habit started young, when Jim Penny, Sr., was growing up around 9th St. and Erie Ave. in Phila. and would hang around the practice of Dr. Henry Schneider, a vet who often cared for large animals, including horses that he treated in an open area adjacent to the building that housed his office. The area had a fence with a gate that opened onto Erie Ave. and gave young Jim a glimpse into a world that would occupy him for the rest of his life. …The wonder of those early years never left him.
“I want people to know how much he loved his job,” said James, Jr. “For him, he lived his whole life like he was a kid at the circus.”
The job and the joy of it touched every part of his life. He met his wife of more than half a century, Nancy Lee Penny, through his association with Dr. William J. Lee, who was a professor of equine surgery at the University of Pennsylvania.
…And he continued on the job until the very end of his life because neither he nor anyone else could imagine him without his work. He wouldn’t even take time off to see a medical doctor even though he was experiencing breathing problems. …He waited until the track shut down for a short period of time before he went to a physician and learned that he had cancer. …A couple of months later, he was gone.
…He was so vigorous and full of life, his stride so strong as he made his walking rounds of the barns on the backstretch, his death (at age 78) came as a shock to almost everyone who knew him.
-Excerpts from “Ticket to Paradise”, by Larry McMullen, a memorial story on Dr. James Penny that was published in the Jan./Feb. 2000 issue of the PTHA News