Clementine L. Peterson, 102, gave millions to arts, education

September 17, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Clementine L. Peterson, a philanthropist who gave millions of dollars to Baltimore-area cultural and educational institutions, died Friday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center of internal bleeding. The Guilford resident was 102.

In 1973, she established the Duane and Clementine Peterson Charitable Fund through which she gave away most of her $12 million fortune.

Her husband, Duane L. Peterson, who died in 1962, was RTC founder of Peterson, Howell and Heather, now known as PHH, the country's largest auto fleet management and leasing company.

Recipients of her philanthropy included the Johns Hopkins University, Center Stage, Baltimore Choral Arts Society, the Girl Scouts, Baltimore Opera Company, Peabody Conservatory and Western Maryland College, to which she gave $1 million to renovate and restore its Fine Arts Building. In 1994, it was named Clementine and Duane L. Peterson Hall.

Her gifts were without strings. She expected nothing in return except enjoyment from helping.

"It's more important to give of yourself. That's the most important thing of all," she said in a 1993 interview in The Sun.

"I don't know of anyone kinder who gave so much of themselves," Clarisse Mechanic, a friend for more than 30 years, said yesterday. "It was a real plus having someone like her in Baltimore and not only the city but the state has lost a wonderful friend."

Richard W. Kiefer, her lawyer and a friend for nearly 50 years, said, "Her charitable giving reached 55 nonprofit organizations. You name it and she was involved with it. She was the kind of person who wanted to be involved."

Clementine "Clemmie" Elizabeth Lewis was born in Hartford, Conn., and raised in Davenport, Iowa.

She attended Vassar College until illness interrupted her studies but later earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Northwestern University. While at Northwestern, she met Duane Peterson, and they were married in 1920. He was employed by Butler Brothers, a wholesale mail order firm in Chicago, and moved to Baltimore in 1940 when the firm purchased the Baltimore Dry Goods House.

After moving here, Mrs. Peterson immersed herself in cultural and civic organizations. She was president of the Women's Civic League, then first woman member of the Baltimore Planning Commission, the only woman member of the Governor's Transit Committee, president of the Baltimore Area Girl Scout Council and the first woman board member of the Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

She was a founder of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society in 1966 and was on its board at her death.

"When she got involved with something, she stuck with it. Her interest was not cursory," said Tom Hall, music director of the Choral Arts Society, who said the group's Nov. 9 presentation of Mozart's "Requiem" will be dedicated to her.

Mr. Hall praised her understanding and appreciation of the "complexity and pressures facing cultural organizations" and her ability to "look at the long term and take and suggest the appropriate measures to ensure that they would continue."

At their first meeting, Peter W. Culman, Center Stage managing director, recalled Mrs. Peterson telling him, "You probably want some money out of me. You'll get a lot more from me if I get interested in Center Stage."

He said she played a "big role in the evolution of Center Stage."

Said Stevenson W. Close, Western Maryland College assistant vice president and director of development: "Her impact here was very serious over the years. She has been one of our foremost supporters in the history of the college and the kind of person who wanted her philanthropy to be felt."

Mrs. Peterson was a member of Second Presbyterian Church, 4200 St. Paul St., where a memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 25.

She is survived by several nieces and nephews.

Pub Date: 9/17/96

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