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Paine College Celebrates the Life of Dr. David Peterson

October 18, 2021

Paine College Celebrates the Life of Dr. David Peterson, 56 Philanthropist, Educator, Humanitarian, and Distinguished Alumnus

Up and to the time of his passing, David Peterson stood on the front lines championing his Alma Mater. David Peterson, the son of sharecroppers, grew up in rural Alabama. His parents were strong advocates of education and insisted that their children attend college. He once stated during a February 2020 interview that eight out of ten of his siblings went to college. In search of a college education, his journey led him to Paine College at the age of sixteen where he graduated in 1956 with a degree in Biology. During his matriculation, David met Betty Cook met on the campus of Paine. They married and relocated to California where they worked as Educators until their retirement.

"He was a close lifetime friend and one of the most devoted supporters Paine College has ever known," reflected Mr. James Walton, a former member of the Paine College Board of Trustees. "Having served on the Board with David, I witnessed his undying passion for Paine College. My friend David embodied the very best of what it means to be a loyal, dedicated, and supportive alumnus of Paine. David leaves a legacy that will never be forgotten in the hearts and minds of alumni and friends. He touched the lives of hundreds of alumni who were beneficiaries of his generosity. He and his wife Betty supported many students by paying their tuition and helping students to reach and cross the finish line. His generosity will touch thousands of lives for many years to come."

"Although the Paine College Community is saddened by the passing of Dr. Peterson, we celebrate his 50 plus years of dedicated service and support that have created pathways of success for many generations of students," echoed President Cheryl Evans Jones. It is because of the David and Betty C. Peterson's Legacy Gift of $1.8 million that the Department of Lion Athletics has a sprawling 43,000 square foot home that is paid in full. Because of this transformational gift, the HEAL Complex bears their name. There are many successful alumni who are living examples of how David and Betty Peterson influenced their lives. We can point to successful educators, physicians, attorneys, civic employees, first responders, and entrepreneurs who were recipients of scholarships and tuition assistance made possible by the Petersons".

Dr. Mallory Millender, Paine College Alumnus and Historian, remembers David Peterson. "When David Peterson died, Paine lost the quintessential Paineite. He was a teacher who never stopped teaching and a principal who left us principles by which to live. People seeking to be rich do not go into teaching, but David did. Following the Paine College Ideal, he lived "simply, practicing a reasonable economy," and amassed a fortune in real estate. Dr. Millender reflected, "Many of us watched him as he visited the College through the years. He was almost always with his Paine classmate, the late Charles Mathis, who called him Alabama. Others called him Bama. He almost never wore a tie and rarely wore a suit or even a sport jacket. What he almost always wore was a purple Paine College athletic jacket with white leather sleeves and a white "P" on the front."

The monetary contributions may not have been his greatest contribution to Paine, nor the most lasting. In the early 1980s, President William H. Harris launched the Alumni Recruiting Program. He brought in about 25 carefully selected alumni from all over the country for a recruitment training retreat in Hilton Head, SC. Armed with the necessary history, course offerings and Paine's unique features, the alumni recruiters were largely responsible for bringing in 250 first-time freshmen the following year, a record at that time. David Peterson used his contacts as a teacher and as a principal to send to Paine large numbers of students from the Los Angeles area—year after year after year. He did not just recruit them; he paid their airfare to and from Paine as long as they were enrolled at Paine. And, he did not just round up warm bodies. Most of them had good academic averages, and some were outstanding athletes. If they did not qualify for financial aid, he paid for their tuition, room, board and books, and made sure that they had adequate spending money. He did not stop there, he visited Paine during the semester to check on their academic progress and social wellbeing. He flew them to Los Angeles to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with their families, and back to Augusta.

Ms. Helene Carter, VP of Institutional Advancement, fondly remembers David Peterson. "He unapologetically championed his beloved Alma Mater, never ceasing to support the causes in which he strongly believed. The Peterson's love for education and athletics was reflected in their gifts. David Peterson was indeed the personification of a faithful and loyal alumnus who ‘walked the walk'.

David Peterson received awards such as Alumnus of the Year at the annual Paine College National Alumni Awards banquet. He was inducted into the Paine College Athletic Hall of Fame. The College also conferred an Honorary Doctorate upon David Peterson for his service to Paine College. During the 17th Annual Presidential Scholarship Gala and Masked Ball held February 7, 2020, the City of Augusta presented a model of the street sign that was erected in David Peterson's honor. The David Peterson Way street sign was installed on Druid Park Avenue, a major thoroughfare that runs parallel to the HEAL Complex.

The Paine College Family extends sincere and heartwarming sympathies to Dr. Peterson's wife Betty and to the Peterson and Cook families. Dr. Peterson's legacy will live on throughout the life of Paine College and through all of the people who knew and loved him, and in the lives he touched.

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