Denny Ray McElyea

Denny Ray McElyea died peacefully at University of Virginia Hospital on September 17, after a long illness. Denny was born on August 22, 1949, and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. His neighborhood abutted a large military and civilian airfield which led to his fascination with planes and aviation. He became a pilot at an early age.

He graduated from college in Missouri, where he played football and helped manage an airport. He began, as he put it, “climbing the corporate ladder” selling commercial and industrial equipment regionally. He was briefly married. His hair turned completely gray in his 20s. 

Disenchanted with that life, he joined the Communities movement, arriving at Twin Oaks Community in Louisa in the late 1970s. There he developed his craft of appliance and equipment repair and refined his artistic gift for photography.

After ten years, Denny left Twin Oaks and joined the larger community of Louisa County. He established Denny’s Appliance Repair and from there developed friendships with people of every walk and position in the county. Many remember his cartoon ad in The Central Virginian with the slogan “ I don’t treat them like just a machine”. There have been many testimonies as to Denny fixing a balky appliance just by the laying on of hands. Many more received the gift of Denny’s diagnosis and directions on how to fix an appliance over the phone. There was never a charge. 

To have Denny service your appliances was to have a considerate friend in your house of unimpeachable honesty and a focus on the best interest of the owner. Denny was unbending in his understanding of fairness, respect, and honesty. While he would go many miles for the most exacting client or the most needful friend, if he detected a lack of those qualities in how he was being treated, it was generally the end of the relationship.

Denny was a passionate and talented portrait photographer. Old and young people were favorite subjects, as were dogs. Denny printed, matted, framed and gave photos to friends and clients for years. Many families have beautiful and natural portraits of loved ones in their homes because of Denny’s art and caring. Having no children of his own, he adopted those around him. A chief delight was in finding great yard sale and thrift shop toys and items for his friends’ children and grandchildren. Bestowing unique, humorous,or thoughtful gifts was not limited to children. Practically no one who knew Denny well is without something he especially wanted them to have.

Denny cut a wide swath in a humble, charming, humorous and loving way. University of Virginia Medical Center staff noted the number and diversity of visitors in his short last stay there.

He will be greatly missed.

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