Lucy Egan Denney, for decades the organizing wizard of the Arlington Democratic Party, who managed 29 campaigns for the County Board, died May 1 at the age of 87.
Lucy passed away after a battle with cancer. She is survived by her husband, Jerry, her children, Charlie and Jane Taylor, seven grandchildren and a very, very, very strong Democratic Party in the county.
Lucy and Jerry came to Arlington in the 1950s, part of the postwar surge of immigrants who came to work for the federal government—in her case, the CIA—and found a powerful Democratic machine run by the Byrds and dedicated to the proposition that African-Americans needed to know their place.
Like most of those newcomers, Lucy was offended. Unlike most of those newcomers, however, Lucy was not a transplanted Yankee. She came from Louisiana.
Lucy was an organizer par excellance. She started in the days of “telephone trees,” addressograph plates and envelope stuffing parties. She completed her career as “headquarters chair,” meaning she ran the Arlington Dem office and everything that went on inside, and retired in 2005, just as the computer was displacing the old ways.
In her honor, the main room wherever the party HQ is located is always called the Denney Room.
But Lucy wasn’t just a nuts and bolts person. She had a firm grip on issues and worked hard for progressive goals, with a special emphasis on affordable housing.
Lucy was born February 9, 1931, in Shreveport, Louisiana, the older of two children. She graduated from high school in 1947 at the age of 16. She attended Hollins University, one of the country’s oldest women’s universities in Roanoke, Virginia, graduating with a B.A. in history in 1951. She went on to earn an M.A in history from Stanford University.
She came to Washington, D.C., in 1954 to take an analyst’s job at the CIA where she worked until 1959. Through mutual friends, she met Jerry Denney, and that began a long and loving partnership. Lucy and Jerry were married in June 1957.
Lucy volunteered her time and abundant energy to many Arlington County projects and activities. She served on the Arlington Fair Housing Board from 1968 to 1979, was a member of the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board and volunteered with many community organizations including Meals on Wheels, Arlington Street People's Assistance Network, the Alliance for Housing Solutions, and the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, where she served on the board for many years.
Lucy was also an active member of St George's Episcopal Church. She served as a member of the Vestry, was a volunteer with the Food Pantry and was a member of the Social Ministry and Outreach Committees.
While Lucy's contributions to the Arlington community are many, she is undoubtedly best remembered for her work with the Arlington County Democratic Party. She became active with Democrats in the mid-1960s and quickly became a commanding figure.
She linked up with Joe Fisher in helping to make Arlington a Democratic bastion. She managed all of Fisher's campaigns for County Board from 1967 and then for Congress from 1974 to 1980. She also ran his constituent service office while he was in Congress.
She went on to run campaigns for a host of Dem contenders for seats on the County Board, including John Milliken, Ellen Bozman, Mary Margaret Whipple, William Newman, James Hunter, Paul Ferguson, Jay Fisette and Chris Zimmerman.
Milliken gave a eulogy at the celebration of her life ceremony May 5. Looking out over the crowd, Milliken said, “There’s nothing that Lucy loved more than a full house.”
Milliken said, “Most people think of Lucy as being about the mechanics of politics—the managing of volunteers, the development of precinct letters, the organizing of a candidate’s time and a campaign’s financial resources. And she excelled at all of those and much more.
“But that’s getting the cart and the horse mixed up.” Milliken said. “Lucy was a person of substance who understood that the issues that motivated her had to find a way to be translated into policy. And she had a genius for how to do that.”
Milliken recalled that Lucy served on the Fair Housing Board from 1968 to 1979, “when that board actively pursued local landlords and property managers for discrimination based on race and ethnicity. It may be hard to imagine in 2018 that, in those years, getting a recalcitrant property manager actually to integrate his buildings took creativity and determination.”
He then told the story of how the Democratic Party and the Arlingtonians for a Better County (ABC), a group formed for federal employees so they could take a roll in local politics and not bump up against the Hatch Act of that day, formed an alliance to put progressives on the County Board.
He explained each step in the process over the years and ended each paragraph: “And Lucy was in charge.”
Lucy described the secret of her long and happy life as maintaining a positive attitude, contributing to programs and organizations that reflected her values, and always making time for her family and large circle of friends. The family requests that donations in lieu of flowers be made to St George's Episcopal Church in Arlington or the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.