Service for Walter Peterson recalls thoughtful, civil leader

Associated Press / June 14, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H. — The late governor Walter Peterson made many lasting contributions to public service and higher education in New Hampshire, but it was his unswerving civility and kindness to others that people remembered at a memorial service Sunday night.

Ernie Loomis, a retired state trooper who provided security for Governor Peterson, was among the friends and colleagues who gathered at the Capitol Center for the Arts to share thoughts and stories about him. He recalled the former governor telling him: “You’ve got to be able to tell a man to go to hell and have him look forward to the trip,’’ drawing laughter from the crowd.

Governor Peterson, a moderate Republican from Peterborough who served from 1969 to 1973, died June 1 at age 88.

“Walter didn’t just talk with you; he engaged with you,’’ said University of New Hampshire president Mark Huddleston, describing the way Governor Peterson touched the arm of each person he spoke with, always giving his full attention.

Ana Crnilovic, a former student who was befriended by Governor Peterson when he was president of Franklin Pierce College, said he paid for her books when she was a student. She and her two siblings came from Serbia on sports scholarships when times were hard in her homeland. The Petersons made sure she and her family got the support they needed.

“They are a true family; they were there all along for us,’’ said Crnilovic, who is now a lawyer in Massachusetts.

Governor John Lynch was one of many to say that the former governor was a mentor and described him as a principled and honest friend. “He didn’t care about polls and popular opinion,’’ Lynch said. “Walter did what he thought was right.’’

“Seeing Walter always brought a smile to my face, I think because he was always smiling,’’ recalled US Senator Jeanne Shaheen. Both Lynch and Shaheen, also a former governor, spoke of the ongoing role Governor Peterson played at the State House, providing advice and support to them as leaders over the years.

Many friends and colleagues mourned the loss of decency Governor Peterson represented, something they said is sorely lacking in today’s political arena. “What defined Walter Peterson above all else was his unswerving civility,’’ former senator Warren Rudman said. He noted Governor Peterson served at a time of great upheaval, during the Vietnam War, but said his decisions set New Hampshire on a solid path to growth and opportunity.

Governor Peterson served as House speaker in the 1960s and as president of Franklin Pierce College for 20 years. He also served as interim president at the University of New Hampshire and remained dedicated throughout his life to helping young people attend college.

Born in Nashua, he graduated from Nashua High School and the New Hampton School. He attended William & Mary College and the University of New Hampshire and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1947. He also was a US Navy veteran, a partner in a real estate business, and served as president of the 1974 state constitutional convention.