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Former U of U President Chase Peterson Dies at 84

University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library Special Collections
Former University of Utah President Chase Nebeker Peterson

  Former University of Utah president Chase Peterson passed away on Sunday at the age of 84.  Peterson had deep Utah roots and a national reputation.

In his autobiography The Guardian Poplar, Chase Peterson described an idyllic childhood in Logan, where his father was president of what is now Utah State University.  He attended Harvard University, became a medical doctor and part of the Harvard administration before he came back in 1978 as Vice-President for Health Sciences at the University of Utah.  In that role, he was the spokesperson for the first artificial heart implant in 1982.  He became president of the university the following year.

Tony Morgan worked with Peterson for years as the University’s Vice-President for Budget and Planning.  He says Peterson’s way with people was a key to his success.

“When he would come to the Park Building for work every morning," Morgan told KUER, "he’d put his arm around the janitor and chat with the janitor as easily as he would with the most sophisticated faculty researcher or a legislator or so forth.  He treated all people the same.”

In 1989, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann announced their discovery of what they believed at the time was nuclear fusion in a laboratory bench experiment.  The so-called ‘cold fusion’ controversy led to criticism of the university and Peterson himself.  He told KUER’s Doug Fabrizio in 2012 that event played a part in his decision to step down in 1991.

“The battle was going on," Peterson said. "There was no real way to wipe away the turmoil.  It was distracting from what was going on.  I’d been at the university a good while.  I was one year away from retiring. And I came home and said, ‘Grethe, I think it’s probably time for us to move on.’”

The university’s current president, David Pershing, said in a statement that Peterson’s legacy will be his efforts to “enhance the U’s teaching and research mission.”

Peterson battled a form of cancer, multiple myeloma, for more than fifteen years.  He continued to teach and practice medicine and remained active in academic and community affairs until just a few weeks ago.

Funeral plans have not been announced.

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