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Dimitri 'Mao' Penha Dead at 54

March 2, 2009 — Dimitri "Mao" Penha, 54, died Feb. 22 at the Veterans Hospital in Puerto Rico.
Penha was an artist, a poet, a community activist and an attentive listener to the many friends who stopped by each day to chat.
Tributes will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Philadelphia Seventh Day Adventist Church, with services following at 10 a.m. Burial will be in Eastern Cemetery.
Sitting in his wheelchair in front of the Fruit Bowl in Wheatley Center, Penha was an integral part of the local landscape. If he wasn't there, people wondered why. His gentle presence caused folks to pause for a minute or two, to come together and talk. It seemed like he knew everybody.
Penha liked his vantage spot at the Fruit Bowl for more than just conversation.
"It's good for girl-watching, too," he remarked awhile back. (See "On Island Profile: Mao Penha.")
Penha was in an accident 30 years ago that severed his nervous system and left him paralyzed from the neck down. After his accident, Penha's poetry began pouring out.
"I've got about 16 or 17 books now," he said a couple of years ago. He wrote of his hopes and fears. He wrote of old times, of sweetbreads and coconuts, of guavaberries and kenneps, of sugar apple, tamarind and soursop. Penha sold his little books of poetry for about $3.
And he wrote about local politics. In a treatise about the V.I. Constitution, Penha pleaded for unity within the Virgin Islands' diverse population. His political activism was not restricted to words. Almost single-handedly, Penha got automatic doors installed on the Sugar Estate Post Office, working with then-Postmaster Louis Jackson. He said at the time that it took almost four years.
After a chat, Penha always left his friends with a smile and an admonition, "Drive safely."
He is survived by his mother, Jane Penha; the mother of his children, Rita Farley; son, Setu Penham; daughter, Kimberlee Penha; brothers Ivor Penha and Delano Penha; sisters Rosalie Hughes, Gwendolyn Molloy, Merle Murphy, Diane Smith, Maxine Turnbull and Judy Rohan; five grandchildren; and many, many friends.
Arrangements are by Turnbull Funeral Home.

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