Cambridge-Denise Petri passed away on Friday, February 24, 2023 at Glens Falls Hospital at the age of 80. Denise was born in Texas, the third child of an Irishman and his young wife. After her parents divorced when she was five, Denise was raised by her mother, Lorena Yushinsky, and her devoted step-father, Pete Yushinsky, who taught her to hunt, fish, and swim. The family spent a year in Germany with the occupation army and then moved into a small house in Highspire, Pennsylvania. In the attic there, Denise found a small box of books, the beginning of her lifelong fascination with all things literary.
The family expanded, and Denise helped to raise her two beloved little brothers, Pete Justin and Dave Justin, forcing them to eat their vegetables or risk barbaric punishments. As a teenager, Denise waitressed at Howard Johnson’s turnpike restaurant where her mother Lorena was the colorful head waitress. She saved her tips to pay for tuition to the local Catholic private high school, Bishop McDermott High, enrolling herself there to study literature and the arts. Eventually, Denise made her way to Houston, Texas where her birth father lived, to attend St. Thomas University. At a weekend dance, she met a handsome serviceman; they married quickly.
Denise moved with her first husband and kids to Madagascar, spending six years living in a house overlooking the jungle. As part of an ex-patriot community, she spoke fluent French, taught at the American Embassy School, rode horseback through the brush, shopped for vegetables at the Brasserie, hosted international parties, and won impromptu shooting contests in the jungle.
Returning to Texas, Denise re-enrolled in college courses (to the consternation of her first husband). She obtained a Bachelor's degree, several Master’s degrees, a divorce, and ultimately a Ph.D. in Education at age 60. As she furthered her own education, Denise became a leader in the field. She worked for the Pearland, TX School district– first as an office aid, later as an 8th grade English/Creative Writing teacher, then as a school principal, curriculum development leader, assistant superintendent, and literacy consultant. Throughout her career, she championed fairness in issues of race and education. In her free time, Denise, ever-energetic, ran races, dabbled in gardening, attended plays, and traveled extensively.
In later life, Denise married Geza Petri and moved to Cambridge, New York. Together, the happy couple traveled the world, biked across Cambridge and Canada, maintained close ties with friends and family, and created a beautiful home. Always a staunch progressive, Denise marched in protests and volunteered her time and money to support left-leaning candidates. Denise successfully battled ovarian cancer, amyloidosis, and a grueling stem cell treatment. She joined writing groups and book clubs and was a daily visitor to the YMCA. She learned new skills in retirement and refined old ones: bread-making, gardening, writing, painting, biking, crocheting, and of course, reading: she always had stacks of books by her chair and bed, all of which she seemed to be reading at once.
Denise spoke to everyone she met, delighting in their stories and their successes, always generous with compliments and admiration. Her family and friends will miss her open-mindedness, her silly streak, her athleticism, her toughness, and her commitment to lifelong growth and learning. Most of all, we will miss the question she asked each of us every time we spoke with her: “What are you reading?”
Denise is survived by her husband, Geza Petri; her children, Quentin Brogdon, Nicole Brogdon (husband Azim Shekarchi), and Minette Cummings (husband John Cummings); and her grandchildren, Stephanie Brogdon, Mina Shekarchi, Finn Cummings, and Quillan Cummings. She is also survived by her step-children, Jason Petri (wife Michaela Petri) and Jeremy Petri; grandchildren James, Olivia, and Sophia Petri; and her pesky dog, Mika, whom she and her husband Geza mysteriously loved.
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