John R Peterson

John R Peterson

A friend of mine told me the other day that he looks at my father's obituary -- they never met -- about once a week; he said that it is an "inspiration".

John Peterson had that effect on people.

He was -- is -- still the one person I think of when it comes to having a conversation. His interests were myriad; because he read almost constantly (when he wasn't writing), he knew enough to carry on a discussion about just about anything.

He was as complex a man as any I have ever known. Most people know him as a reporter, editor and publisher -- which required that he be conversant on everything from an ag teacher's curriculum to the nuances of football blocking schemes to the intricacies of a zoning change and everything in between -- but that just scratches the surface.

I remember people sitting in my high chair -- one also used by my siblings as they arrived -- while he carefully applied make-up in preparation for a theater production; when I went off to college, he let me rummage through his handmade case to get an idea of what I would need, and later sent the case with me -- a singular gift that was as meaningful as any I ever received until he handed me his grandfather's pocket watch.

He taught my brother and me about baseball when we were barely old enough to hold a bat, pitching to us in the (to us, at the time) huge yard we had, but only after he built a remarkable retaining wall so our field would not be covered by the hillside; the left field line was marked by a treehouse he built. It had a short right field, but we learned to keep our hands back, to keep our eye on the ball and to not step in the bucket. If there are three rules for living, those will do.

He taught us about printing presses, and along with that, the essential values of working with others, of respecting a craft, of appreciating the context of history; we also learned a lot about the chemistry of wallpaper paste. He did things you weren't supposed to be able to do, not because he was contentious (though he certainly could be that on occasion), but because no one could give him a good reason why he couldn't do them.

He taught me chess, and my youngest brother cribbage (one of his generally-unknown skills was that he was a helluva card player). He was patient with all of us, unless you happened to drop a bolt just out of his reach -- but was far more so with the rest of the world. People came to talk to him, or stopped him in the hallway -- but I think they actually wanted to listen to him. Somehow, he "got it".

But for all the teaching he did, he also learned from everyone and everything -- including his children. So many people have told me, "he's the only one who you always felt was paying attention." I honestly don't know if that was always true, or if he just had a knack for being able to guess what someone was going to say before they said it, but one thing is certain: he held conversations the way they're supposed to be. He didn't lecture, he didn't dismiss, and he didn't ignore.

The world lost a friend when my father died. He thought about big things, and during his lifetime, he commented on many of them. If there was anything he did not tolerate, it was anything unfair, and at the same time, he was able to allow those who would be unfair and unjust their say. "There's room in the world for all kinds," he told me, and I think he is one of the few people who actually meant every word of it.

His mission in life was to inform and educate, to give his readers a sense of perspective and context to the world around them. He trusted facts; what people said and thought was not nearly as important as what they did or didn't do, because that was where others' lives were impacted. He felt the essence of an issue was in what was and is -- not in what someone said about it.

Calaveras County lost a friend when my father died. He loved this part of the world; everything he ever did -- as an occasionally-controversial public figure, as a Little League coach, as a business owner, as a member of the community -- was because he felt his adopted home to be HOME. His passion, his caring for Calaveras as his corner of the universe can only be measured by his absence from it; he isn't around to help write a community plan or make decisions about the school curriculum or ensure that the water district isn't playing fast and loose with the public trust.

My mother lost her best friend of sixty-odd years. If she spends the remainder of her life keeping a bottle of Glenlivet around the house for him, and celebrating their anniversary, and watching the river in Yosemite for and with him, so be it. One cannot imagine the void in her life.

I lost my friend. In the weeks since he died, his profound presence in my life has been measurable, fortunately, more frequently by the great joy I have in remembering the time we spent together than by the sadness that comes from knowing there won't be more of that time -- but those moments of sorrow will keep surprising me, I'm certain. I suspect that his sense of humor, as subtle as the soft rustle of a newspaper page being turned, would appreciate that he can still catch me off guard.

Here's looking at you, JP. You were my mentor, my colleague, and without question the best father any son ever had; if my days end with my being half the man you were, then by any measure, it will be because you showed me how.