My father, Ray Petersen, 79, passed away peacefully on Feb. 7, 2009, in Howard County (Md.) General Hospital with my mother, Norma, by his side. He died of medical complications following kidney failure.
He was born July 24, 1929, in Ware, Mass., and resided in Palmer, Mass., until the age of nine when his father’s railroad job relocated his family to New London, Conn. He graduated from Bulkeley School where multiple Amherst College alums taught. (Among them were P. Henry Shea ’21, instrumental in obtaining scholarships to Amherst for both my father and my uncle, Harry Petersen ’52; John Troland ’26; and Malcolm Greenaway ’30.) These teachers proved to be a major influence in my father’s decision to attend Amherst.
At Amherst, my father participated in track and cross-country, belonged to Theta Delta Chi and worked in Valentine Hall. He developed a great fondness for Amherst, which never faded; he cherished his friendships with classmates. Although he was not fond of travel and was somewhat reserved socially, he always enjoyed attending the alumni Reunions, and he made the effort to attend an annual New York City dinner with several classmates. Unfortunately, he missed his 50th Reunion due to early medical problems; I know he regretted this immensely.
Although I am sure that my father hoped I would attend Amherst, he did not try to influence me. He patiently took me to tour several colleges of interest before I made the right choice to apply Early Decision and attend Amherst.
Majoring in chemistry, he went on to receive a Ph.D. in that field from Brown Univ. in 1956. He married Norma Hohn of New London, Conn., in 1954. Moving to Williamstown, Mass., in 1956, he was employed by Sprague Electric Company for 15 years.
In Williamstown, my father served as chairman of the Democratic Town Committee for many years and remained a big fan of old school Democrats such as F.D.R. and Hubert Humphrey. (Earl Latham’s “Political Science 42” was a favorite course.)
In 1971, our family relocated to Ellicott City, Md., where my parents have since resided. There, my father was employed by Martin Marietta, Taylor Instruments and the City of Baltimore, prior to retiring from Solarex Corporation in 1991. He was active in the Maryland branch of the American Chemical Society, having been editor of their journal, The Chesapeake Chemist, for 20 years. He was also credited with 20 patents in the electrochemical field.
Other than his family, my father’s greatest passion was railroads. He enjoyed taking trips by rail, often making the journey from Maryland to Amherst on the train, and many family outings centered on attending train-related events. In addition, he enjoyed puttering with his large collection of H.O. models. But as much as my father loved trains, he disdained airplanes and took great pride in the fact that he never once flew.
Although my parents had no pets, my father thoroughly enjoyed visits over the years from our Labrador retrievers, as well as my sister’s dogs and cats. He never tired of their antics and spending time with them brought him great pleasure.
Ray leaves his wife, Norma, of Ellicott City, Md; his son, Carl ’78, daughter-in-law Kathryn, and granddaughter Jennifer Nyman of Belchertown, Mass; his daughter, Erica Valdes, son-in-law James, grandchildren Leah and Lucas Valdes of Churchville, Md.; his brother, Harry Petersen ’52, sister-in-law Marty and their children of Vandalia, Ohio. Grandson, Kristofer Petersen, predeceased him in 1993.
My father will be greatly missed by his family and many friends who will always remember Ray Petersen as a true gentleman.
—Carl Petersen ’78
Since Ray Petersen’s death, I have talked with many Amherst men, including all the surviving Class of ’51 Theta Delts. We unanimously applaud Ray’s son, Carl, for so superbly capturing the essence of a very caring, hard working, intelligent, cheerful gentleman who was our friend, classmate, fraternity brother and loyal Amherst alumnus. We, too, will miss Ray. His absence will cause a big void in our Reunions and Class dinners.
The Class extends to Ray’s widow, Norma, and their extended family, our sincerest condolences and sympathy.
—John Kirkpatrick ’51