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Eulogy for Ralph Peterson

Eulogy for Ralph Peterson
By Bud Ahearn

When our Creator decided to design Ralph Peterson, He chose to create a masterpiece…a human being that He as Creator, and we as family, friends, and colleagues would admire and welcome.

As we individually reflect on our relationship with Ralph and his memorable characteristics, we can't help but conclude that His design included:

  • A great sense of humor
  • A remarkable portion of forgiveness
  • An overflowing wellspring of talents, interests, and skills to share and employ
  • A family in the Show-Me state of Missouri and Oregon that evoked the humor, inspired the talent development, stoked the fire of competiveness, and hard-wired the guiding principles and core values of what a good person and a good life of integrity is all about
  • A profession that is boundless with opportunity to serve humankind with ingenuity, stewardship and social justice
  • A home community and a whole world to which he stood accountable as a global citizen…competent, committed, caring, and most generous.

I need not recount the numerous ways Ralph stewarded his endowment

  • No doubt his fun loving, colorful and most creative expressions and storytelling were at once knee-slapping funny, naughty, and demanding of forgiveness - this guy could make a gritty sailor blush, yet bring him to his knees both with laughter and for prayer. Ralph himself was no stranger to scolding or contrite response - having been forgiven, he also learned to forgive.
  • Few of us have ever lived nor worked with a person with such expansive talents, interests, skills and passions - when we think of instruments of regional, national, or global power - political, psychosocial, economic, technology and the forces for security - Ralph did not hesitate to engage, to contribute, and, in many cases… to lead. Nowhere was this more evident than his global advocacy for delivery of sustainable community development around the globe. We would find Ralph in universities, professional societies, business forums, and significant political gatherings, fostering the values and winning commitments to learn and to change. Indeed, he inspired tangible, positive changes in economic opportunity, social justice and environmental stewardship which are key elements of major projects being done around the globe.

As a middle child in a family of 11 children from Hayti, Missouri, Ralph brought a lot of energy, aspiration, competition, and love to the Peterson table. His love of the outdoors, hunting, fishing, dogs, school sports, and class leadership could not have been better nurtured as he grew up in a small community. Be assured the sisters Martha, Anita, Janet, Kay, and Marjorie, and the brothers Lowell, Arlys, Lionel, Jim, Frank, and Mike brought a lot of individual and collective force to the shaping of Ralph into a whole person - people- centered, curious, daring, open and forthright, giving, and darn right virtuous. I never met his mother, but I remember shortly after she passed, seeing Ralph and expressing to him that she must be a candidate for sainthood, having reared a family to lives of such virtue as he so well personified. This was the first time I saw Ralph weep, but was not the last for the love of people.

Having met Betty in Oregon as a student at Oregon State and as a working man at CH2M HILL, Ralph began to get some good order and discipline in his life. He tumbled hard for Betty and fought for her hand. This prodigious young man with brilliant mind, relentless in the pursuit of excellence, and with unflagging zeal for life made his best moves, only to be rebuffed. "No way! Not now! Cool as you are, I'm not marrying any teenager," she said. Their two children, Jamie and Jeff reflect the same brightness, self determination, and spunk. Be assured that the five grandchildren Jamie and Jeff have added to the Peterson table are endowed with the energy, brightness, and curiosity of their Grandfather Ralph, and the family values of their Grandmother Betty. The quick wit, hard work, selflessness and love of generative families is an infectious force. Thank you, Peterson family, for that force that found its way into our profession, business, community, and world.

The life of Ralph Peterson at work had its own color. As you might expect, he simply loved to work.

  • World view, visioning, strategy, and breaking down complex issues were his passions
  • Making technology work for our clients as they build a better world was his commitment
  • Caring and commitment to those he served and served with were his obsessions

This executive compass gave his life purpose, direction, and was the foundation for his stand-out performance in the industry and for our firm's growth from a regional consulting engineering firm to a global, full service, employee owned project delivery firm. He loved building and belonging to potent human forces - his firm, his community, his profession.

Ralph often found himself working/playing "in the zone", as high-performing athletes would say. You know…when you are playing at your very best, you have lost the sense of time, place, and the need for food, rest, etc. So many of you have personal evidence of this, the 3:00 am emails to you regarding you, your work, your mischief, or your family or sometimes even for something we could have done better.

Over his years as Chairman/CEO, Ralph came to deeply understand the meaning and significance of the Art of Leadership - the capability to outperform the science of management and the promise of technology. He deeply immersed himself in the Foundation of Leadership program content at the University of Michigan. There he infected more than 800 rising leaders with the totality of his ethics, energy, enthusiasm, ideas, and edge. He was preparing all of us for tomorrow. He loved to teach, to set standards, and to outline expectations. Class was participative, engaging, and strategy forming. In the end, we all got to shape and own the strategy and the tasks of execution. This is one of the many ways he created the framework for self empowerment to free up the full potential, promise, and possibilities of all he touched.

While Ralph was gifted with a brilliant mind, incredible memory, and standards of perfection that, from time to time drove us all crazy, his commitment and caring for people drove us to those we hold most dear - family, friends, those we serve, those colleagues with whom we serve. Ralph dearly loved his family and his firm. He was as proud to show the pictures of his grandsons doing things kids do as he was pictures of our wonderful CH2M HILL people doing cool projects around the world. He so enriched our culture with his whole Personship that we have come to realize standards of perfection at home, at work and the world are far more than meeting expectations and compliance. Rather, the standards by which he lived showed us the way to the highest state of human condition - virtuousness.

  • It is not enough to create wealth, it is only enough to be generous
  • One must know what is good and bad and live life with moral obligation to do what is good.

In closure, we could not be more grateful for our Creator's gift to us, Ralph. He was a remarkably loving husband, father, grandfather, friend, community member and professional colleague. St. Frances of Assisi was a favorite of Ralph. His prayer:

  • help me to be generous
  • to give and to not count the cost
  • to fight and to not heed the wounds
  • to serve and to not ask for rest
  • to labor and to not seek reward…
    save only to know that I am doing Your Will
    was fulfilled in Ralph's life.

We will miss his presence, but his spirit will endure in all who held him dear.




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