Petey Young died on October 31, 2022, in Vancouver BC. She was 92. Petey lived life on her own terms, and she died on her own terms too: She chose a medically assisted death, and she chose it with the same quirky enthusiasm that she brought to the zillions of other unconventional choices she made throughout her extraordinary life.
Petey was born on February 15, 1930, in Michigan, to Robert and Erma Hall Young. Her parents named her Mary Patricia but, as a child, she insisted that she be called Petey instead, and so she was. Several of her subsequent choices were more mainstream than that. She became president of her college sorority, and she married her college boyfriend, Richard Whipple, with whom she would have six children (Miles, Graham, Derek, Kelin, Galen, and Quincy-Robyn) who then gave her six grandchildren. But, starting in the 1950s, she pivoted more fully to the road less travelled. She joined a community theatre troupe, writing, directing and acting. She became a prolific poet. She was so disheartened by the politics of McCarthyism that she took her growing family overseas for many years—living in Ghana, Singapore, and Ethiopia. At some point in there she declared her marriage to Rich to be a “four-person marriage” and invited their friend Bob and his wife into it. (Their marriages didn’t last, but her love affair with Bob—who died a few weeks before she did—lasted for the rest of their lives.) She returned to the U.S. in the 1970s, but the transition was not a kind one: Nixon was President, her marriage ended, and her family was separated. And so Petey embarked upon a remarkable mid-life educational journey, culminating with a Ph.D. at the age of 50 from the University of Wisconsin. She went on to have a fulfilling career as a Professor of teacher education at Southern Oregon University in Ashland.
Petey loved bright colors. She loved to travel to far-flung places. (At the age of 91, for instance, she went to the Galapagos and the Amazon rain forest.) She loved to write, whether in the form of poems or letters or journals or the skits that she sometimes performed at family gatherings (once in the nude). And she loved—or maybe she just couldn’t help it—to eschew traditions and to flout other people’s expectations about what she, and her life, should be.
Petey will be remembered fondly for these and many other things too (her elaborate stories, her intellectual curiosity, her elliptical phrasings, her delightful sense of humor, her unfailing generosity). Those of us who were with her when she died will also fondly remember that when the assisting doctor asked her if she had any questions, Petey—with that familiar sparkle in her eye—said: “None that you can answer.”