Irving Penso

Born: Fri., May 24, 1946
Died: Thu., Jan. 24, 2019

Services are to be announced

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Music by The Piano Brothers

A lover of life, an advocate for peace and justice, a lifelong volunteer and teacher, a devoted friend, father, grandfather and partner, Irving Samuel Penso has departed this Earth. Irving spent his last days at home, with his family, whom he loved dearly.

In his 72 years, Irving made an impact on all who knew him. He was a giver of whatever one needed, whenever one needed it. A poetic soul, he drew people in with his wisdom and his innate emotional intelligence. Over the course of his life, Irving filled the role of counselor, confidant, guide, listener and at times, father, to so many.

A native of Atlanta, Irving attended Morningside Elementary and then Grady High School. He went on to attend Georgia State University, where he studied English and planted the seeds of the future grammarian and bibliophile he would become.

In 1968, Irving joined the Peace Corps. He served in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, where he developed a deep love for different cultures and languages. Irving spoke fluent Portuguese, along with Spanish, bits of French and various words and phrases in Ladino, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Italian and Korean, among other languages.

Upon returning from Brazil, Irving spent a short time as a teacher at Anne E. West Elementary School. He was known there for his charisma, his caring nature and for his distinctive curly hair and full beard.

Eventually, Irving followed his passion for other cultures and for teaching to ELS Language Centers, in Atlanta. In his 37-year tenure at ELS, he served in both teaching and administrative positions, touching the lives of nearly 10,000 students from all over the world.   Irving often became an advisor for students and for his coworkers, who found comfort in his compassion.

ELS is also where Irving met his dear Jan. His voice carried the same passion and excitement no matter how many times he told the story of the first moment he met her.

Jan and Irving married on a hot day in June at Winn Park in Atlanta. Years later, they would continue to celebrate their anniversaries there, and the park would also become the site of family picnics and play outings once their daughters, Becca and Lillia, were born.

Irving’s passion for giving manifested itself through a long career of volunteerism. He was very politically active, lending his voice and presence to causes from voting rights to reproductive justice to immigrant rights and environmental protection. He also spent nearly a decade as a volunteer with Hospice Atlanta.

He was an avid learner and a voracious reader and began attending Georgia State University once again in his sixties as part of the GSU 62 program. He took his coursework very seriously and though he didn’t have to earn a grade, he insisted on doing so.

Above all else, Irving valued and loved his family, the most important entity in his life. He was devoted to making them happy, ensuring they were always well fed, that they were appreciated and that they were noticed. Irving never missed an opportunity to let them know how much he loved them, through both prolific spoken and written words.

Irving never sought the limelight, though he was often the reason things happened. He lived to make others happy and it was rare to see someone around him not smiling.

Irving is survived by his wife of 39 years, Jan Callum,  his daughters, Becca and Lillia Callum-Penso,  son-in-law Shannon McKamey,  grandchildren, Miles and Ella Penso-McKamey,  brother, Elliott Penso and sister-in-law, Pescha Penso, and a number of dear nieces and nephews.

He also leaves many many friends.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to any of the following:


El Refugio -


Atlanta Community Food Bank -

Georgia WAND -

Doctors Without Borders -

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The Krugmans
   Posted Fri January 25, 2019
Our love and sympathy to you, Jan, Lil, and Becca. We will miss Irving greatly.

   Posted Tue January 29, 2019
My deepest condolences to the family. My prayers go out to you, so that you may endure. May the God of all comfort help you and bring you peace (2 Cor 1:3,4).

kathy ellis
   Posted Tue January 29, 2019
My deepest condolences to Irving's family. I met Irving at ELS and we kept in touch for many years. Irving left an impression on anyone who met him. A remarkable human being who lived a remarkable life.

   Posted Thu January 31, 2019
Jan, Lil and Becca: My deepest sympathies to all of you. Although I hadn't seen Irving in years, I feel blessed to have known him. He was one of the kindest, most compassionate, loving people I've ever met and the love for his family knew no bounds! Prayers for peace and comfort for each of you and all who loved him.

   Posted Thu January 31, 2019
I showed up at his school over 30 years ago with no teaching experience, only a master's degree in a useless subject, and by following Irving around for half a year learned how to teach (hint: be yourself). I've always been mindful of his example. Above all, I remember Irving for the tremendous social conscience he emanated.

Jennifer McCoy
   Posted Sun March 03, 2019
My deepest condolences to Jan and daughters. I was sorry to miss the memorial this week as I am in Budapest this semester. But being here also makes me think of Irving all the time as he wrote about Hungary's democratic erosion in my class last year as part of his post-62 experience at GSU. As the obituary read, I can attest to how seriously Irving took his coursework, doing all of the assignments for a grade. And he was a stellar student! But most impressive to me was his ability to gently encourage the younger students to examine their underlying assumptions and beliefs and build stronger arguments for their cause. He expressed his own principles of social justice and equity in a clear, but humble way, never antagonizing others but inviting them to engage in a self-reflective way. In this way, he exemplified his character so needed in today's divided world, and he will be sorely missed.

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