May 31, 2017

Peterson’s legacy will live on at FMU

Peterson’s legacy will live on at FMU

The Francis Marion University community is in mourning following the loss of one of its great academic pioneers, Dr. David Peterson.

Peterson, a professor of Physics at FMU from 1979 until recently in 2016, passed away at his home in Surf City, N.C. on May 31.

A memorial service will be held at Francis Marion University in the Chapman Auditorium at 1:00pm on Saturday, June 10. The service will be preceded by a reception on campus at Wallace House beginning at 11:30 a.m.

Peterson, a native of Manchester, England, was one of the founding fathers of the FMU Physics Department, arriving at FMU less than a decade after the university first opened its doors.

Peterson’s extensive legacy includes establishing FMU’s program in Health Physics in 1984 along with the late Dr. Lynn D. “Skip” Hendrick, creating FMU’s Astronomy collateral along with Dr. Jeannette Myers, helping launch the university’s Industrial Engineering program in 2014, and serving as department chair from 2000-2016.

Like many FMU professors, Peterson made his most lasting mark in the classroom. Dr. Seth Smith, one of Peterson’s students and later one of Peterson’s colleagues in the Department of Physics, called Peterson “one of the finest classroom professors that I ever had.” He said Peterson’s heart of teaching was evident in his disinclination to give it up, even as administrative duties took more and more of his time. “When he took over as chair – the chair’s typical load is six semester hours – David taught nine. I went to him and said, ‘We can pick up that slack for you.’ He said, ‘Please don’t ask me to give up what I love about being a professor.’”

Students generally remember Peterson as a professor who demanded excellence and professionalism, but who also one of the most patient instructors on campus.

Rob Ardis, the president and CEO of Santee Electric Cooperative Inc., graduated from FMU in 1998 with a degree in Physics and Mathematics. He says Peterson prepared him for his future in business the way no other professor could.

“As a student, the first time I was in his class, I was scared of him,” says Ardis. “When he conducted his class, it was as if he was saying, ‘I’m here to share my knowledge with you. I don’t suffer fools lightly, but if you’re serious about learning, I will take you as far as your mind can go.’”

Peterson was recognized with FMU’s top faculty honor, the J. Lorin Mason Distinguished Professor award in 1995.

He was also appointed to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s Nuclear Advisory Council in 2003 as a part of a nine-member council. Peterson was only the second professor from a South Carolina university selected to that body.

Peterson’s life away from the classroom and the university included an affinity for golf, skillful work with the violin (he performed with the Florence Symphony Orchestra for years and was a musician representative on the FSO Board of Directors), and long-lasting love affair for a very specifically engineered cup of English tea.

Dr. Lorna Cintron-Gonzalez, an assistant professor of Industrial Engineering, recalls his meticulousness engineering of his tea, a memory of Peterson she will hold dear. “You were not to mess with his English Tea,” says Dr. Lorna Cintron-Gonzalez, an assistant professor of Industrial Engineering at FMU and another Peterson colleague. “He needed that water at a certain temperature,” Add Cintron-Gonzalez, “FMU is losing a great professor, mentor and friend. Overall, the sadness that we might feel in the next couple of months will be replaced with great memories of who David is and what he means to us and our program.”

Dr. Fred Carter, FMU’s President, says Peterson’s impact on the university will be felt for many years to come. “David had a profound impact on the development of this university for almost four decades,” says Carter. “He was an exceptional professor, scholar and administrator who loved his job and those with whom he worked. But, above all else, he was a kind, compassionate, and generous friend. All of us — faculty, staff and students — grieve his passing.”

The university has established a new scholarship in Peterson’s memory, a fitting tribute that Peterson’s wife Cathy says was Peterson spoke about often during his closing days.

The David Peterson Scholarship will assist deserving students studying Physics, Astronomy or Industrial Engineering. Donations to the scholarship fund can be sent to the FMU Foundation at PO Box 100547, Florence, SC, 29502. Checks should be marked clearly, “Peterson Scholarship Fund.” For more information on the scholarship, contact the Foundation at 843-661-1231.

For more information, contact Matt McColl, director of media relations, at 843.618.0186, 843.661.1227 or