Former English Chair Douglas Peterson Dies at 84

  • July 8, 2008

Influential literature author and former chair of the English Department Douglas L. Peterson, a Cal State East Bay faculty member from 1960 to 1977, has died. He was 84.

Peterson died June 27 in Lansing, Mich., of complications related to a stroke.

A celebration of Peterson's life is planned for his California friends in October with details to be announced later. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Department of English at Cal State East Bay or to the Mother Teresa House for the Terminally Ill, P. O. Box 13004, Lansing, MI 48901.

Born in San Jose April 12,1924, Peterson grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from Los Gatos High School, where he played varsity football and baseball.

After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he attended Santa Clara University for two years and pitched for the Broncos baseball team. He transferred to Stanford University, where he earned bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in English in 1949, 1950 and 1957, respectively. He returned to Stanford briefly in 1967 as a visiting professor of English.

Before his service at Cal State East Bay, Peterson held faculty appointments at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Washington.

He joined Cal State East Bay as an assistant professor in 1960, was promoted to associate professor the following year, awarded tenure in 1963 and promoted to full professor in 1965. He was honored with a Distinguished Professor Award in 1965-1966.

After auditing Peterson's classes, English professor emeritus Donald Markos observed how well his colleague interacted with students.

"Doug Peterson was learned but not pedantic; serious but not solemn; warm, informal, humorous, but not casual," Markos said. "He made his literature students feel that they were engaged in something exciting and important."

In 1966, Peterson's Cal State East Bay peers nominated him for a statewide Outstanding Professor Award. He served as department chair from 1971 to 1977. Peterson received emeritus status in 1983.

In 1977, he became chair of the Department of English at the University of Mississippi. He later joined the Department of English at Michigan State University, where he taught until his retirement in 1996. His career spanned 42 years at six universities.

Author of many publications, Peterson penned "The English Lyric from Wyatt to Donne: A History of the Plain and Eloquent Styles" and "Time, Tide, and Tempest: A Study of Shakespeare's Romances, "books that had significant impact in his primary area of academic specialization, literature of the English Renaissance. He also published articles about 20th-century American poetry and frequently delivered presentations nationwide and abroad at events, such as the Shakespeare Association of America meetings and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

Honors amassed by Peterson included appointment as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Helsinki in Finland, two appointments as a Huntington Library fellow and a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies. He also received an all-university research grant from Michigan State University.

An accomplished jazz lead trumpet player, Peterson performed with bands, including Don Piestrup's Big Band, Maynard Ferguson's Full Faith and Credit Big Band in San Francisco, and the MSU Jazz Band. He also was an avid tennis player for more than40 years, competing most recently in the Donald J. Montgomery memorial tennis league.

Peterson is survived by his wife Kathy, children Kristin, Erin, Lisa and Douglas and six grandchildren.

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