Everett native worked behind scenes San Francisco Opera

Chris Denny’s musical tastes ran toward classic rock. He loved the Who. When he turned on the TV, likely as not it was to catch the Seahawks. He followed NASCAR, too.

Yet, when the time came for work, the Everett native found himself in a rarefied atmosphere, a place of high culture.

For 15 years, Chris Denny was a professional stagehand with the San Francisco Opera. His workplace was the War Memorial Opera House, a magnificent landmark that also houses the San Francisco Ballet.

“He wasn’t a huge fan. Most guys aren’t huge opera fans,” said Mark Baumann. A house carpenter with San Francisco Opera, Baumann was Denny’s supervisor and friend.

“He never said a bad word about anybody. He was unusual in that regard,” Baumann said recently from San Francisco.

Christopher Joseph Denny, 47, died Oct. 26 at his home in south San Francisco.

Eight months ago, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, his aunt, Patricia Denny, said. A cancer of the plasma cells, it claims about 10,000 American lives a year.

As a young man, work and wanderlust took Chris Denny to Alaska. In Juneau, where his aunt lived, he was a chef at restaurants and a senior center. A street vendor in the summer, he sold grilled halibut and pita bread to tourists. “He did fun things,” Patricia Denny said.

An Everett High School graduate, Chris Denny studied culinary arts at Everett Community College.

His aunt was in California caring for her nephew when he died at home. “He had been watching the World Series,” she said.

His father, Herbert Denny, lives in Everett, where for 30 years he headed Catholic Community Services. Patricia Denny said her nephew inherited his love of cooking from his late mother, Dolores.

In 1990, an uncle helped him land the opera house job.

During his funeral Nov. 4 at Immaculate Conception Church in Everett, his older brother, Hugh Denny, a military planner at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., described Chris Denny as “a man who had qualities not always honored in today’s world.”

“He valued simplicity,” Hugh Denny said. He has fond memories of childhood, when they were altar boys – “faithful and somewhat irreverent.” Chris Denny had heart surgery as a child, which he endured “with grace,” his brother said.

Hugh Denny said his brother’s quiet demeanor was a perfect foil for the strong personality of their mother, Dolores Denny. “If my mother was the unstoppable force, Chris was the immovable object,” he said.

Chris Denny’s younger sister, Anne Yeldell, remembers a quiet brother who was often in his room studying. “I’d stick notes under the door,” said Yeldell, of Marysville. “He liked the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who.”

Opera wasn’t a passion, but at work he was a master, Baumann said. A stage carpenter, or grip, Chris Denny built sets, loaded and unloaded trucks, and made sure performers had all they needed.

“He was good with his hands, and he was a strong son of a gun,” Baumann said. Before his illness, “he was a great big fellow, 6-foot-4, and weighed 280,” Patricia Denny said.

“He was a good stagehand,” Baumann said. “Some people can’t cut it, the hours are really long. It’s not uncommon to come in at 8 a.m. and walk out after 11 at night, sometimes six days a week.”

Steven O’Reilly, a younger cousin, worked with Chris Denny at the opera house. “He was kind and straightforward, his work ethic deeply rooted,” O’Reilly said.

They shared both a family bond “and a fraternal bond through our union,” the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local No. 16.

When he wasn’t working, Chris Denny was skiing, watching the National Hockey League’s San Jose Sharks, or keeping up with NASCAR; he liked Chryslers the best. “He’d been down here a long time, but was still a Seahawks fan,” Baumann said.

Always, there were friends.

Baumann delivered a eulogy at a service at Mater Dolorosa Church, Chris Denny’s parish in south San Francisco. His friend was so peaceable, he “would rarely cuss,” Baumann said. “For him, ‘horsepoop’ was strong language.”

“He was rich in friends,” Hugh Denny said.

“Chris was quiet, not an aggressive kind of person,” his aunt said. “Chris could always just make things calm, soothe the troubled waters.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlsteinjulie@heraldnet. com.

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