Pendrul Ruffin I, funeral director, dies at 68

Pendrul Ruffin I liked that Roman numeral instead of the typical "Sr."

He thought it was more dignified. And, anyway, nobody called him Pendrul, unless it was a first-grade teacher. He was "Big Penny" to all who knew him.

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He would have been "Sr." under any other circumstances because he named his eldest son Pendrul. And so, the son became Pendrul Ruffin II, instead of "Jr." But he, too, became known as "Big Penny."

In fact, the son made the name Big Penny into a Philadelphia icon. He bills himself as the city's "limousine tycoon" and "driver to the stars," and drives his fleet of limousines for many celebrities and other notables.

His father, who worked for SPS Technologies in Jenkintown for 38 years while also directing funerals for two South Philadelphia funeral homes, died Monday of complications of emphysema and a heart condition. He was 68 and lived in South Philadelphia.

"He was a no-nonsense kind of man," said his son, Pendrul II. "You had to fly right with him."

Pendrul I was born in Philadelphia to Marion and James Ruffin. He graduated from Bishop Neumann (now St. John Neumann-Goretti) High School.

He went to work for Standard Pressed Steel Co., which later became SPS Technologies. He worked his way up to foreman before he was forced to retire by poor health. He had a pacemaker installed about 10 years ago.

Big Penny worked the 3-to-11 p.m. shift at SPS and worked mornings for funeral homes.

He worked for the Chew Funeral Home at 21st and Christian streets for about 15 years, starting as a hearse driver and eventually becoming the funeral director.

He later went with the Slater Funeral Home, 1426-32 Fitzwater Street, as a director. He was with Slater for about 20 years.

Pendrul had a number of career plans that didn't come about. After graduating from Neumann, he entertained thoughts of going into the Norbentine religious order. In later years, when he became interested in the funeral business, he considered going to embalming school. That didn't happen, either.

A devoted Catholic, Pendrul I liked to have big celebrations at Easter and Christmas. He wanted to make sure the meals were cooked right, but didn't cook them himself. "He would sit back and teach others how to cook. Even at Thanksgiving when he was confined to his bed, he would give orders to the cooks," his son said. "There were a lot of good times at the house."

Pendrul was married three times, to the Rev. Ella B. Ruffin-Ford, Emily Ruffin and his current wife, Michelle Allen.

Besides his wife and son, he is survived by another son, Mark Ruffin; three daughters, April Ruffin-Russ, Avm Ruffin and Penny Ruffin, and eight grandchildren.

Services: 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Slater Funeral Home, 1426-32 Fitzwater Street. Friends may call at 5 p.m. Friday and at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. A private burial will be held in Ivy Hill Cemetery.