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Sunday, January 4, 2015

52 Ancestors Year 2 #1: John Marshall Peterson, Economist and my Father

      My father, John Marshall Peterson, was born on 6 Jan 1922 in Ft Worth, Texas.  His father, Walter Leonard Peterson was Physical Education Director for the YMCA and his mother later became Physical Education Director for the YWCA. He had an older brother, Wally and sister, Betty. John was named after his mother's grandfather, John Marshall Cookson. It occurs to me that everyone in the family was known by a nickname except for Walter, who always has been called Walter.  Walter, Jr., was known as Wally, Elizabeth as Betty, his mother, also Elizabeth was known all her life as Bessie and John was Jack. He was Jack until in High School there were so many John Peterson's that he became known as Pete. Pete is what my mother called him when they were married, although later she called him Jack. But his second wife and his friends and colleagues later in his life called him John.

     In 1927 the family moved to Chicago and in 1929 to Detroit.  Walter continued to work for the YMCA. In 1930 at the age of 8 Jack spent a year with his Grandma and Grandpa Hudson and Aunt Edna in Ft. Worth. In 1932, at the height of the Depression, his father lost his job at the YMCA.  He decided to enter the Seminary and become a Minister. So the family moved back to Chicago. His father worked as a Park Director and is mother also worked.  They lived in a slum neighborhood populated mostly by Sicilians.  He was a latch key kid, letting himself in after school.  In 1933 he contracted polio and spent about a year in the University of Chicago Hospital.  He spent 8th Grade in a special school for crippled children, although he wasn't really crippled.  One lasting result of the polio was a weak neck (we weren't allowed to hang on him as kids) and occasional recurring bouts of claustrophobia.  One instance he told us about was when he was in the Army in WW II.  He was a Lieutenant in the Quarter Master Corps and woke up screaming in his sleep from such a claustrophobic episode.  This didn't help his ethics presence with his men!

    In 1935, his father graduated from McCormick Seminary and got his first Church in Bessemer, Michigan. Jack went to High School there.  He was on the Basketball team, acted in several plays and participated in the Debate Team.  Here he became "Pete". He graduated from High School in 1939.  His father's sister, Alys, got him an offer of a pastorate in Seattle, Washington and so the family moved there.  Here he attended the University of Washington where he received his B of A in Political Science. I have his transcript which says he got a 3.59 Grade Point Average in High School and a 3.66 GPA in College.  When WW II came along he married Margaret Kells and went to Harvard Business School as part of an ROTC program for the Quartermaster Corps.  He received a Masters in Business Administration from Harvard in 1947 and went on to the University of Chicago where he eventually received his PhD in Economics in 1956.

    In February 1945 he went to Europe as part of the 15th Army in the Quartermaster Corps. They were stationed near Aachen, Germany.  In June they were ordered to re-deploy to the Pacific and moved to Marseilles, France but soon were ordered back to Verdun, then to Metz.  Here he met Irene Remis, with whom he had an affair. While stationed in France he learned many french songs that he used to sing to Rhonda and I as lullabies. In July 1946 he returned home from the war.

    After his return, Jack completed his MBA at Harvard and then went to University of Chicago to get a PH.D in Economics.  Many prominent economists were there at the time and he felt privileged to have met them. I Jun 1950 he received an MA and just had to do his thesis to complete his PhD.Riverdale, Maryland.  In Dec 1948, Wendy had been born and in Nov 1951 Rhonda was born. In March 1953, he moved the family to Alcoa, Tennessee where he worked for TVA. In June 1955, Jack got an offer to head a new Industrial Research and Extension Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.  So we moved to Little Rock.  Here Jack found success with the Center, managed to complete his thesis and get his Ph.D. Here he was active in the Unitarian Church, both he and Margaret having decided that their personal ideas and beliefs fit much more with the Unitarians than the Presbyterian Church they had been raised in.

He took a job with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and moved to Washington D.C., actually living in East

    He was a very good father, especially in the Little Rock years.  Frequently taking us to historical sites, parks, the Municipal Swimming Pool and various trips to visit family. We took a big Western trip in 1958 where we drove from Seattle down the coast, went to Disneyland and then drove through the Southwest seeing many places.  He asked me about it some years later and I told him it was one the highlights of my life, which made him very happy.

    However, but 1959 he had fallen in love with his Secretary, LaVerne Shearer.  He and Margaret were divorced  and John and LaVerne were married in February 1960.  Margaret decided to move back to Seattle and so she and John's daughters moved to Washington.  This was very upsetting to John and his daughters.  He visited yearly and Wendy and Rhonda visited him for a month in 1965. In 1962, John accepted a professorship at the University of Fayetteville and he and LaVerne moved there.  This worked out well.  At one point Bessie's sister Mabel visited for a few months and she and John found the farmhouse that John Marshall Cookson had built and did other family research in the area.

    In 1966, Winthrop Rockefeller became Governor of Arkansas and John went to work for him.  He started as his Economic Advisor and then became Director of the Employment Security Division.  He attended several Governor's Conferences. He found this relationship exciting and fulfilling. He was in Who's Who several years in a row which he was proud of and he said made his Dad happy!

    In 1970, Rockefeller failed to get re-elected and John accepted a Deanship at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  He held that post and then became a Professor and basically did that until the end of his life.  He and LaVerne had a very good marriage and I think he was happy with his life.  In about 1984 he had congestive heart failure and was on bed rest for six months.  He was doing much better when he suddenly had a heart attack and died on 14 Apr 1985.  He had a memorial service in Athens which was very well attended. My sister and I were surprised by all the people who talked about how much my Dad had helped them.  He also had a very well attended memorial service in Little Rock. He had really touched many peoples' lives and was well loved.

    My sister wrote a Recollection of our father and I just want to summarize her main points, since I also found them to be true.  She said he had a wonderful sense of humor and he liked to play and have fun, even he was generally very serious about things.  He had great warmth and love for his family.  He was a patient listener and also loved to give advice. He was a "developer and nurturer of people." And I think this is why so many people felt that he had really helped them.  He was a natural leader. He had vision and could see the big picture. He was "strong and tender, passionate and calm." In researching this post I read a letter he wrote to his brother during the War.  He says, "But regardless of how adverse the situation seems...my fundamental attitude is:  it is what is done next that counts, that will help or hinder just that much more. 'It is better to stumble toward a better life than to take no step at all.'" And I think that is how he lived.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice bio. At some point later in Daddy's life when I visited him in Ohio and was walking around campus with him, he pointed out several professors who were esteemed in their fields, and said he was a little sorry he'd bounced around so much in his career, and hadn't made a mark in a specific academic subdiscipline as these professors had. And yet he touched a lot of lives for the better: people he worked with, his students, and Arkansas residents who benefited from economic policies he promoted under Governor Rockefeller.

    Some years earlier in Arkansas after Rockefeller had been defeated for re-election, the legislature passed a bill that was one Daddy had worked on for Rockefeller, and the new Governor was getting credit for it. I asked Daddy if that didn't make him mad. He said no, it was a good piece of legislation and would be good for the people of the state no matter who got credit for it. He said sometimes things just take time to catch on, and he was glad for the result. I've tried to keep this in mind when I've worked hard on something but it doesn't have the result or effect I'm hoping for.

    As a writer/editor/communications person, I also appreciate his emphasis on good, clear writing. At the research institute, his colleagues called him Blue Pencil Peterson! (Blue pencils being what editors used in those days to mark up a text.) He's probably the only person I've known who actually used headings in personal letters! But darned if what I do when I'm editing a report or proposal is to add headings to make it easier to follow the points and flow of the information!