Ex-NH Gov. Walter Peterson dies of cancer at 88
CONCORD, N.H.—Former New Hampshire Gov. Walter Peterson who was the state’s chief executive for four years in the late 1960s and early 1970s has died of lung cancer.
The 88-year-old Peterson, who never smoked, found out he had lung cancer this spring and received treatment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
Peterson’s death was announced Thursday by Gov. John Lynch, who ordered the state’s flags lowered.
“Governor Walter Peterson represented all that is great and wonderful about our state,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “With a strength of character as tough as New Hampshire granite, Governor Peterson was a true New Hampshire icon, a gentleman and a strong example of courage and honesty in politics. He never wavered from his principles and always put the needs of people first, which is the mark of a great man and an extraordinary public servant.”
Peterson, a moderate Republican, was governor from 1969-1973. He lost a bid for re-election after renouncing New Hampshire’s pledge to veto an income or sales tax. In later years, he warned his party against becoming too extreme.
Peterson also served as president of Franklin Pierce College and, for a year, as president of the University of New Hampshire. He also served in the New Hampshire House in the early 1960s and as its speaker.
“How many times in life can you say you met a really great person? I’ve been in the presence of many great people, but none really compare to Walter,” said state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, who was a college student when he first met Peterson and later worked with him as vice president of Franklin Pierce University and president of Daniel Webster College.
Both men were huge sports fans and often attended college games together, D’Allesandro said. He last visited Peterson on Saturday in the hospital.
“I held his hand, and he gave me that great smile,” said D’Allesandro, D-Manchester. “But he obviously was in pain.”
In 2007, when D’Allesandro and Peterson participated in NPR’s “StoryCorps” project, Peterson was asked who he’d most like to have dinner with. He picked his late father, D’Allesandro recalled.
“Here’s a guy who’s met presidents, met dignitaries all over the world, and the most important person in his life was his father,” he said. “He was a giving, amazing guy.”
Born in Nashua, Peterson graduated from Nashua High School and The New Hampton School. He attended William and Mary College and the University of New Hampshire and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1947. He also was a Navy veteran, partner in a real estate business and served as president of the 1974 state constitutional convention.
He married Dorothy Donovan in 1949. They had two children, Margaret and Andrew.