In Memoriam David A. Peterson

David A. Peterson, Ph.D.   Emeritus Professor, University of Southern California

The world of gerontology has lost one of its Greats with the passing of David A. Peterson September, 2012.  An outstanding educator, mentor extraordinaire, and researcher, he was a major force in shaping the field of gerontology as we know it. His work on the AGHE Standards and Guidelines for Gerontology and the Core Principles documents began the path exploring the potential for academic comparability of programs that led to AGHE’s Program of Merit.

His leadership extended through the USC’s Davis School and Andrus Gerontology Center (1978-2003), as President of AGHE, and the California Council of Gerontology & Geriatrics.  He has been recognized by his colleagues with awards and scholarships established in his name at these very same Institutions, as well as the Association for Adult and Continuing Education.   A legend in his own time, he was successful in ushering in the first Ph.D. in gerontology, as well as numerous dual degrees with law, business, social work, Hebrew studies, and health administration.

A man of gentle demeanor and a consummate consensus builder, he championed the development of academic program innovation, student career development, and the credibility of Gerontology as a field of study.  His writings focused upon quality of education not only for those studying to work with older adults but for strategies teaching older adults.

Those of us fortunate enough to study under and work with David learned a special appreciation for his ability to step back and analyze before making decisions, as well as his prowess on the tennis court!

It is with this in mind that we include comments from some of his colleagues.

Betty Douglass,  AGHE Executive Director, 1980-1997

David was President of AGHE (1984-1985) and quickly determined that if it was going to increase and improve the services provided to its members, it needed to diversify its sources of income, which then came largely from membership dues.

Being a successful grant-writer, he aggressively began teaching me, AGHE’s fairly new Executive Director, to write grant proposals. Over the next 10 years, with his often serving as project director or co-director, AGHE was the recipient of several awards from the U.S. Administration on Aging and the AARP Andrus Foundation.  These projects generated a whole series of publications still being sold by AGHE, several articles on gerontology education in peer-reviewed journals, and numerous new services for our members.

He received the Clark Tibbitts Award in 1993 and in 2007 AGHE established the David A. Peterson Award presented annually for the best article of the year in Gerontology & Geriatrics Education. Throughout the many years he served on the Executive Committee and long after he was AGHE’s President, David donated his time, expertise, energy, and institutional resources to benefit this organization and the field of gerontology and geriatrics education.  And he was also incredibly kind, generous, reliable and smart.

Betsy Sprouse AARP Andrus Foundation, Retired

Meeting David Peterson was like meeting a rock star. I was working on my master’s at Syracuse, and met Dave in the Chicago airport when we were both on our way to the first AGHE meeting in 1975. I had just figured out that my interests in gerontology were in education for the professions, older adult education, and academic administration, and almost everything that I had read on these topics until then was written by David Peterson.  Once we figured out we were both going to the same meeting and introduced ourselves, I had a barrage of questions for him about where the field of gerontological education was going, and what I should write my thesis on. I’m sure I was both naive and obnoxious (memory fails on that front), but I clearly remember that Dave was patient and encouraging, and interested in what I was doing and where I wanted to go in my career. My path changed a bit over the years, but Dave’s friendship and interest in my career did not, and I will be forever honored by that.

James E. Birren, Ph.D.  Founding Dean, Andrus Gerontology Center

David Peterson was a valuable head of the Davis School of Gerontology. He had a background in education and a broad perspective on developmental issues that are implicit in learning about gerontology. He also had an interest in the progress of individual students. These intellectual assets led him to be both a leader and a pioneer in academic gerontology.
On a personal level he had a moderate temperament and was approachable on many problems associated with developing a new and complex academic field. In my many years of association with him, I always found him to be reasonable, reflective and constructive.  There are few who could fit into his academic shoes. I placed unusually high value on him as an academic leader, colleague and friend

Edward Schneider, MD, Professor and former Dean, Andrus Gerontology Center

When I came to USC twenty-five years ago, David was the acting dean of the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.  He was an effective dean and I wondered why he didn’t want to be the permanent dean. But, in his usual self-effacing manner, David explained that he did not want the spotlight as Dean and would be very pleased to help me learn the ropes. He was invaluable to me as the Director of the School. As a lifer at NIH, I knew almost nothing about academia in general and gerontology education in particular.  David was recognized as the nation’s premier expert on gerontology education.  I considered myself very fortunate to have David as Director of the School.  When universities decided to start a gerontology program, they called upon David Peterson to guide them.

David was a terrific partner in fundraising.  His dry wit complimented my overly wet variety.  Donors loved David Peterson.  When I was soliciting a major gift from Ed and Rita Polusky, they indicated that they had a special fondness for David and would be pleased to fund the Polusky Director’s Chair as long as he would be the first chair holder.  Although I was fortunate to obtain several chairs during my tenure, my greatest pleasure was being able to tell David that he finally had his own chair.

Each year, David would meet with me and provide feedback from faculty and staff and made suggestions to me on how to improve my deanship.  Obviously the session lasted a long time. I was truly blessed to have such a selfless, talented and knowledgeable partner.  David was treasured by our students and staff who truly loved him.  He was always there for those who needed his sage advice.

I remember asking David what he was doing on summer vacation.  He told me that he was going to a small village in Africa to put in sewer pipe.  He was a lay minister in his church and his faith in god and man was always evident.

He will be greatly missed by all of us.

Kelvin Davies, Faculty, Davis School of Gerontology

I was so sad to learn of David’s passing.  He was a man of great integrity and inner strength.  He was generous in his dealings with colleagues and students, and unflagging in his support for our school and center.  Dave’s contributions to our educational program in Gerontology were enormous and our field has lost a true pioneer and leader.  Although it has been many years since Dave graced our halls, we will all be walking in his footsteps for many years to come.

Dean Pinchas Cohen, MD. Davis School of Gerontology and Andrus Gerontology Center

I speak for everyone associated with the USC Davis School when I say what an amazing mind and spirit David Peterson had, and what an enormous impact he had on the field.  It is with great sadness that we say goodbye, but we are proud to honor his exceptional life and legacy.

Jolene Fassbinder, MSG, MACM, Program Officer, Archstone Foundation

I had the great pleasure of doing my undergraduate and graduate studies under the leadership of Dr. David Peterson.  His compassion was unsurpassed and his guidance always reassuring.  Somehow I knew that with Dr. Peterson’s leadership, what appeared to be a major obstacle in completing my studies would somehow be removed.

Those of you who knew Dr. Peterson do not need me to tell you that he was a true pioneer.  He promoted and researched careers in aging, and set the state for students like me to actually pursue a lifelong dream in the field of aging.  For that I will be forever grateful.  As the former executive director of the California Council on Gerontology & Geriatrics (CCGG), I took great pride in carrying on his work.I will miss Dr. Peterson’s gentle spirit in the days and years to come.

And final comments from a Graduate of the MSG program at USC – Cheryl Svensson, Ph.D that says it all “He was the Best”.

We want to acknowledge his wife Ellen who has been his stalwart companion through the very long battle with Parkinson’s disease, along with his son and daughter and their families.

Thank you David for your compassion, integrity and inspiration.

Pauline Abbott, Ed.D.  Director Emerita, CSU Fullerton Institute of Gerontology & Ruby Center

Phoebe Liebig, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, USC