Dr. Dennis Penn, longtime Lexington physician, dies at age 86

kward1@herald-leader.comJanuary 29, 2013 

Dr. Dennis Penn, 86, a longtime Lexington pediatrician and a former Fayette County coroner, died Tuesday.

He provided medical care for Lexington families for more than 30 years, serving as chairman of the pediatrics departments at St. Joseph, Central Baptist, Good Samaritan and Shriners hospitals through the years.

He became a deputy coroner in 1990 and was appointed coroner in 1992, after the death of Fayette County coroner Dr. David Hull. He was later elected to the post and served until 2002, when he retired rather than seek re-election.

"I was looking for a further challenge and something in public service," Dr. Penn said in a Herald-Leader interview upon embarking upon his second career.

In the mid-1990s, he became the focus of a controversy over his office's handling of the death of Tony Sullivan, a black teenager who was shot and killed by a Lexington police officer.

Dr. John Hunsaker III of the state medical examiner's office in Frankfort said that he came to know Dr. Penn at a time when his office shared a building with the coroner's office. He said Dr. Penn "turned out to be an outstanding coroner" despite having a background outside the field of forensics.

After leaving the coroner's office, Dr. Penn eventually moved back to Georgetown, where he had grown up. He continued to work as an adjudicator for childhood disability claims for the Social Security Administration until fairly recently, said his longtime friend Larry Summers.

He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Brenda Watson Penn, and four children, Holly Penn Tevis, Julie Penn King, Dennis Gaines Penn and Ellen Daube. Milward Funeral Directors is handling arrangements.

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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