Deceased June 5, 1992
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A native of Port Chester, New York, and a graduate of the Port Chester High School, Peter came to Amherst and quietly demonstrated his preparedness to undertake a physics major by winning one of the two Bassett Physics Prizes awarded each year “to those students who have distinguished themselves by the excellence and maturity of their performance in the class and laboratory work of the first course in Physics.” By the time of graduation, he had also won the department’s other award, the William Warren Stiffler Prize, “awarded to a senior who has majored in physics and especially excelled in the course on electricity and magnetism.” Showing broader academic excellence, he earned membership in Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and the Bond fifteen.
Outside lab and classroom, Peter was a member of Alpha Theta Xi, and participated in activities of the International Relations Organization. Peter’s interest in IRO was surely influenced by the fact that his father, Paul ’27 had been born in Italy and was a teacher of Italian in Port Chester.
George Baker offers a remembrance of the thoughtfulness of his roommate. “Peter was a very quiet and self effacing person with a luminous intelligence who I suspect was very near the top of the class. We were reasonably close friends from freshman year on. Peter was scrupulously honest in every interaction with everybody and an excellent scientist. He was a kind and generous man and never hesitated to help, if he could, with a particularly knotty problem. My then girlfriend, Sandra Martin, had wanted to break up with me senior year. I was talking it over with Peter and he volunteered to lend me the $40.00 bus fare to Dickinson College in Carlisle PA. to see Sandra and mend fences… Peter was an usher at our wedding in 1962.”
After Amherst, Peter went to MIT, where he earned a PhD in 1965, and served there as an assistant professor from 1967 to 1972. During that time in Cambridge, he met Sharon Voss. They married in August 1970. After Peter’s MIT appointment concluded, they moved to Stoddard, Wisconsin, right across the Mississippi River from Sharon’s home state, Minnesota. Peter taught courses at the La Crosse campus of the University of Wisconsin, but by 1976 preferred to characterize himself as “Publisher/Editor” of Chipmunk Press. Chipmunk Press was probably named for the road where he and Sharon lived, but also suggests that the real inspiration was Peter’s interest in ways to teach physics to children. Perhaps he wanted to be prepared to introduce the subject to his own children, daughter Susan and son Michael. For whatever reason, he chose to style himself from 1989 on simply as a “Self-employed writer.”
Peter died June 5, 1992, two days after surgery. George tells the story: “He died as a result of peritonitis secondary to a complication of bile leakage. I was serving as an assistant class agent for the Alumni Fund at that time and Peter was on my list of people to call. For some reason, he was much on my mind in that first week of June and an insistent voice in my head urged me to call Peter. Finally, I called only to be informed that he had died five hours previous at home. Sharon told me that he had not felt well after his operation but, in his usual self effacing manner, he had not wanted to bother anyone. I have had to live with the fact that, had I called sooner, I might well have had a chance to save his life. That experience taught me to trust my intuition and to call my friends when that still small voice in my head calls to me to do so.”