Edward Peterson Jr.
Dr. Joel E. Rubin
USITT Co-Founder, Fellow and Past President
Edward Peterson Jr., a founding member of USITT and a Fellow of the Institute, died May 21 of complications following surgery. He was 77 and had been living in Los Angeles, California and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Mr. Peterson was born in Forest Hills, New York and grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts. He graduated cum laude from St. Mark’s prep school in Southborough, Massachusetts in 1949 and as a young man was active in various summer stock companies throughout New England.
He graduated from Princeton University with a degree in American Civilization in 1954, where he was a member of the Key and Seal Club and the Triangle Club. He did graduate work in the Yale School of Drama’s technical design program and served at the U.S. Army Television Center during the Korean conflict.
Mr. Peterson was involved with USITT from its inception. Dr. Joel E. Rubin remembered, “Shortly after Ed moved to New York City in 1964 to take up employment at Kliegl Bros., he was elected to his first leadership position within the Institute as USITT’s Treasurer in 1965. However, as Treasurer Ed was a disaster, fortunately committing to only one term.
“It was not handling the money that was his problem; it was the bookkeeping. We soon realized that Ed had banked more membership dues than we had names of members on the books! We learned early at both USITT and Kliegl that paperwork was not Ed’s forte. Fortunately for both organizations, we also learned that Ed possessed other talents. Chief among them were his people skills,” Dr. Rubin noted.
It should perhaps be noted in all fairness that when Mr. Peterson took on the position of Treasurer again in 1973 to fill out an unexpired term, he led USITT’s response to a somewhat vital but delicate negotiation with the IRS that he managed quite successfully with the help of his people skills.
It was with these talents that he continued to serve the Institute throughout the 1960s and 1970s in a variety of offices including Second Vice-President (1967-68), Special Liaison to the Board of Directors (1968-69), Technical Secretary (1969-70), and Director at Large of the Board of Directors (1968-69, 1971-73, 1975-77).
Mr. Peterson’s leadership role at USITT also included serving as Vice-President for Conferences (1981), and Chair of the Awards and Resolutions Committee (1974-79). It was while heading up the Awards and Resolutions Committee that he first advanced the idea that there should be a designated group within the Institute honored for exemplary achievement and service.
This group ultimately became known as the "Fellows of the Institute," and Mr. Peterson was a member of the first class of Fellows inducted in 1977.
But it was in the area of talking people into creating outstanding Conference sessions that was undoubtedly Mr. Peterson’s greatest specialty, and both Henry Tharp and David Hale Hand, who succeeded him as Vice-President for Conferences, attribute their own later success in that position to his tutelage.
Confidence-building carried over into Mr. Peterson’s work for Kliegl, later for Colortran, and still later as a casino showroom design consultant in Las Vegas. “It was hard to resist purchasing any product or service that Ed was pitching,” Dr. Rubin said.
He made his mark on Las Vegas by contributing to the lighting systems for some of the city’s biggest attractions including the Mirage, Caesar’s Palace, Treasure Island, and the Bellagio. A true innovator in the field of lighting, his day-to-night-to-day sky feature at The Forum at Caesar’s was considered by Time magazine to be one of Las Vegas’ most unique highlights. For many years Mr. Peterson was the lighting consultant for all of the tradeshow exhibits of IBM.
Dr. Rubin remembered, “Ed always had a smile on his face, a loud guffaw on the ready, and his hand out to both friends and strangers. Remarkably, he seemed never to forget a face or a name. I worked with Ed for over a dozen years at Kliegl Lighting and this knack never failed; you could stand by his side at a conference, and Ed would be ready to introduce a constant stream of people who looked only somewhat familiar to the rest of us with--- ‘Joel you remember ---Dr. X from Y University!’ Thanks to Ed I was able to meet and greet!
“I’d get a handwritten list the next morning at breakfast of who had come round to say hello. Ed was simply a people person with an outsized personality. He loved the games of selling, and swapping stories, and jousting with competitors.”
He is survived by his wife, Kim White Peterson; son Erik Peterson; and daughters Heather Curtis and Holly Peterson; as well as his five grandchildren, Blynn, Samuel, Molly, Emma, and Sophia.
“It was a privilege to know Ed and work with him, and to try to snag onto some of his people skills. He was truly unique and will truly be missed,” Dr. Rubin said.
[This notice was prepared by Joel E. Rubin and Rick Stephens on behalf of the Fellows of USITT with additional research from Barbara E.R. Lucas of the USITT National Office, and with the assistance of the Peterson family.]