Ron Peterson, an Oregon icon whose life encompassed the roles of student, soldier, businessman, citizen and philanthropist, died Sunday, Feb. 14, in Portland. He was 88 years old.
A longtime and enthusiastic supporter of the University of Oregon, he was recipient of the university’s most prestigious awards: the Presidential Medal in 2004 and the Pioneer Award in 2011. Details on a memorial service will be announced later.
In 2002, Ron and his wife Patricia, who survives him, made what was at the time the second largest gift in the university’s history, directing support to the Lundquist College of Business, Presidential Scholarships and athletics. Peterson Hall, in the Lillis Business Complex, and Peterson Plaza, at Autzen Stadium, were named to recognize their generosity. Counted among the university’s most generous donors, the Petersons have given more than $25 million to the University of Oregon.
“We are deeply saddened by Ron’s passing,” said Jim Terborg, interim dean of the Lundquist College of Business. “Ron was a self-made man and a business leader. He gave so much to the college, so that students for generations to come would have great opportunities. We will miss him.”
“I’ve been so deeply impressed by the dedication of Ron and Patricia to the University of Oregon,” President Michael Schill said. “Their giving to scholarships, facilities, faculty chairs and programs across campus have touched the lives of many and will do so for many, many years to come. Through his quiet yet amazing generosity, Ron exemplified what it means to be a Duck. We extend our sympathies to Patricia, their children and their families, and friends.”
One of Portland's most successful businessmen, Ron Peterson interrupted his UO education to enlist in World War II. He returned to earn his accounting degree in 1949 before settling in his native Portland. Like his grandfather before him, he became a certified public accountant. But Peterson’s career took a different turn when he began acquiring commercial properties in Portland and found success in real estate investments.
The Petersons were involved in a number of philanthropic and community service organizations, from providing wheelchairs to those in need to feeding the elderly and sheltering the homeless. He was known for a tireless, hands-on approach to community service and generously supported numerous agencies and organizations, notably Providence St. Vincent Medical Foundation, the American Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter, and William Temple House.
Ron Peterson was District 5100 governor of Rotary International after serving as president of the Portland Club. He was a member of the UO's Vanguard Society, Arnold Bennett Hall Legacy Society and the Lundquist College’s Inner Circle.
While he shunned attention for his giving to his alma mater, Ron Peterson acknowledged the advantage his education gave him and said it simply made sense to give back to the business college. “Why wouldn't we support it?” he once asked. “It's terrific for the university and terrific for us. We've been extremely lucky and are happy to pass on our rewards.”