Colleagues of Regent William Peterson said they will remember him as someone who stood up for the “little guy” and supported campus growth.
Peterson died Friday of lung cancer at Regions Hospital in St. Paul at the age of 65.
An at-large member of the Board of Regents who served as chairman of the litigation review committee, Peterson was elected to the board in 1993 and re-elected in 1999. His term expires in 2005.
Gov. Jesse Ventura is expected to appoint a replacement until the state Legislature has an opportunity to fill the vacancy.
Since 1995, Peterson worked with the General Counsel’s office and provided advice on more than 200 pending cases involving the University.
Peterson also used his extensive background in construction to advise University officials on expansion projects.
“He brought so much strength to the board in a variety of issues,” said Patricia Spence, regent chairwoman and close friend to Peterson.
“He used his leadership skills to help make (the University) a stronger institution,” she added.
Peterson was born June 2, 1935, in St. Paul. He attended Cathedral Grade School and Mechanic Arts High School.
In 1952, Peterson joined the U.S. Navy and served during the Korean War. His service ended in 1956.
As an iron worker, Peterson was elected business representative of Ironworkers Local 512 in 1970 and served until 1981, when he was elected secretary of the St. Paul Building Trades Council.
Peterson also served on the Minnesota State Building Trades Council, the Governor’s Job Training Council and the Minnesota State Unemployment Council. In addition, he recently retired as secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.
Peterson served on the board of directors of Health Partners and Regions Hospital, as well as the United Way.
At the University, Peterson brought attention to the institution’s policies regarding contracts with clothing manufacturers using sweatshops.
“He was one of the most brilliant people that I’ve encountered,” said University President Mark Yudof. “He had an enormous common sense and a lot of empathy.”
Unable to attend regents’ meetings in person since April, as he had been sick for some time, Peterson instead gave advice by telephone, Spence said.
“He just brought such a breath of knowledge,” Spence said. “You just don’t replace someone like that.”
“He’s going to be very missed by the entire board,” she added.
Peterson is survived by his wife of 43 years, Katherine; daughter, Lori, Jean and Kristin; son Joseph; and five grandchildren.
A visitation is scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday at O’Halloran and Murphy at 575 S. Snelling Ave. Funeral services will be held 9 a.m. Thursday at the Cathedral of St. Paul on 239 Selby Ave.
— Staff reporter Tess Langfus contributed to this report
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