January 6, 2012, saw the passing of a great spirit. The day was bright, warm and sunny day, with a divine sunrise, but in the early morning a great shadow was cast over the hearts of so, so many who were touched and transformed by the genius, capacity for love, and tireless activism of Ellen Pence.
Like many who have had a huge impact on the world, Ellen made no distinction between the personal and the professional. She brought her whole heart to her work and with it a remarkable ability to intimately connect with and influence even those whose views were most divergent from her own. She gave her family and friends the joy of ever-creative social gatherings that generated strategies and nurtured relationships, leading to many levels of social change.
During the 1960s, Ellen was an activist in the housing, antiwar, civil rights and feminist movements. In 1975, she became active in the battered women’s movement, which was the primary focus of her work for the remainder of her life. After a time of advocating for funding for battered women’s shelters, Ellen moved from Minneapolis to Duluth, MN, where in 1980, she and a small group of activists organized the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, commonly referred to as the “Duluth Model.” The model, which has been adapted for use throughout the world, employs an interagency approach to shift responsibility for confronting domestic violence from the victims of the violence to the community, based on the idea that women (and their children) have as much right to be safe at home as all people have to be safe on the street.
Ellen continued to seek an end to violence against women through many other endeavors. Starting in 1990, she worked with a team of experts to redesign the U.S. Marine Corps’ response to family violence. She was the founder and director of Praxis International, a non-profit dedicated to helping institutions meet the needs of the people they serve. In 2009 she began work with professionals in the Saint Paul criminal justice system to develop a “Blueprint for Safety” for battered women. Her unfinished projects include the response of family court in cases of battering and racial disparity in the child welfare system.
Ellen effectively integrated academic research with grassroots community work. Like Paulo Friere, who inspired her social activism, she was both scholar and organizer. She earned a B.A. from the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth and a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She published numerous articles on institutional responses to the issue of violence against women and designed the Praxis Safety and Accountability Audit, an ethnological process used extensively to assess the response of community agencies to violence against women and child abuse.
Above all, Ellen will be remembered by thousands of people nationally and internationally for her remarkable gift of public speaking. Her sense of humor, extensive knowledge and experience, passion for justice, and belief in the potential for change in both individuals and institutions leave us with treasured moments and offer us a torch to carry on the work in her name.
Ellen was preceded in death by her father, Robert Pence; sister Diane VanValkenburg; and nephew Jake VanValkenburg. She is survived by her mother, Audrie Anne Marshall Pence of Shoreview, MN; partner, Amanda McCormick, and son, Liam McCormick, of Saint Paul, MN; Godson, Forrest Funmaker, Merrilan, WI; sisters Carole (Don) Miller of Fridley, MN, and Fran (Rick) Myran of Stillwater, MN; brother David (Candice) Pence of Mankato, MN; and many loving nieces and nephews.