Peggy Shannon died in December at the age of 68 after complications from surgery. You might be thinking her name sounds familiar, but can’t quite place it.
During the summer of 2013, Peggy was the great-grandmother with the courage to publicly detail former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s alleged unwanted sexual advances and harassment as she attempted to do her job at the Senior Citizen Services Center Office on the first floor of City Hall. Filner would allegedly stop as he walked through the lobby to make suggestive remarks such as reportedly asking, “Do you think I could go eight hours?” and kissing her on the lips.
“Every day that I went to work, I had butterflies in my stomach because I did not know what was going to happen the next time the mayor came by my desk," Peggy told reporters at the time."I have three sons, four grandsons and two great grandsons. As our mayor, he should be — but is not — a role model for any of them."
I met Peggy almost five years ago, shortly after Serving Seniors opened its Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center in downtown San Diego. She had recently been laid off from her administrative job, was very depressed and desperately seeking a place, in her words, to belong. She had read about the opening of the center in the newspaper and decided to check us out.
It didn’t take long for her to become a stellar volunteer, taking on increasing responsibility and becoming a leader for our Civic Engagement group. Civic Engagement encourages seniors to remain active by sharing their skills and abilities in the community. It was this connection that resulted in her position at City Hall.
Peggy came to see me shortly after the first allegations of Filner’s sexual harassment surfaced in the media. In a voice that quavered a little, but with an amazing amount of resoluteness, she recounted what had allegedly happened to her. I was furious that this wonderful woman — or any woman for that matter — was subjected to this outrage. Then I was stunned when Peggy said, “I want to go public with my story.”
There are two important points of context here. The first is my background includes working as a reporter and former mayoral press secretary. I immediately realized the media circus that would erupt once she shared her story. The second point is that she would be subjected to sexist and disgusting comments on social media and radio talk shows.
I shared my concerns with Peggy that the media would use her to sensationalize the story and I was certain that unkind things would be said about her. She took my hand and looked me right in the eye and said, “I have been subjected to humiliating comments my entire life. Every one hurts, but I’ve gotten used to it. The public deserves to know the depravity of this man.”
What struck me was that I was not looking at a victim. This was an extraordinarily courageous woman who had multiple indecencies allegedly perpetrated upon her, but wasn’t going to be defined by it.
Peggy did go public and, unfortunately, my predictions came true. The predictable media frenzy occurred, not only in San Diego, but across the United States. Some very sick individuals (some of whom were actually worse than Filner in my opinion) felt the need to exercise their right of free speech.
Despite all the negativity, Peggy never wavered in her belief that she had done the right thing. In the end, all Peggy wanted was two things — neither of which was money. The first was to have Filner gone as mayor. The second was an official apology from the City of San Diego.
I was honored to accompany Peggy to a City Council meeting in February 2014 where she received that apology from Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and then Mayor-Elect Kevin Faulconer.
As a bonus, the City Council proclaimed Peggy Shannon Day in her honor. She received a well-deserved standing ovation from all in attendance. Peggy told me it was the best day of her life.
Peggy Shannon will be missed by her many friends at Serving Seniors, but her legacy of courage and the lesson she taught all of us about being more tolerant and advocating for yourself, will never be forgotten.