I met Peter sometime in the late 70's. Truth to tell, when you first
met Peter, he definitely did not come across as the most jovial of
fellows, but as one came to know him, it was hard not to enjoy his
wry sense of humor and keen powers of observation.
Initially, he bought a small drawing from me which - as a budding
artist in need of cash - I appreciated a great deal. Peter was a man
who could mercilessly tongue-lash art that he thought less than
sterling at the drop of a hat, so it was very gratifying that he
would actually appreciate my work enough to buy it. As a young
artist with few sales to my name, it gave me great confidence.
A year or so later, I met him walking across Warren on Cass. We fell
into conversation and I immediately sensed that he was depressed. I
mentioned this observation to him, and he told me that his house had
burnt down, destroying all his belongings, including the art work
that he had purchased from me.
Moved by this terrible misfortune, I gave him an artwork replacement
at no cost, which seemed to brighten his spirits.
A few years later, Suzanne Schneider and Peter commissioned me to do
a painting (See above) of the two of them together with the
"Truth Monkey", a sculpture around which lies should/could
not be told.
"We're just good friends" they told me, and indeed - it
became a deep friendship that spanned decades.
Peter and Suzanne moved to Philadelphia and were there from 1986
till 1996, then moved to San Francisco. Sadly, I have seen neither
face for many a year. But not a month would go by without my
thinking about them and wishing them well.
Suzanne emailed me today and told me that
Peter had passed away. I am mortified. I don't know why, but I find
myself thinking about the last words Oscar Wilde said before he
wallpaper is killing me. One of us has to go"
It's just the sort of
comment I think Peter might have made.
Fare you well, Peter. It is a richer World for your having graced it
with your presence.
Years ago, before he met Suzanne, Peter would
occasionally invite me, a beleaguered single mother and grad
student, who inherited my father's Irish sentimentalism and resisted
my mother's even more Irish cynicism, to a movie he was to review.
One turned out to be "Terms of Endearment." As I sobbed,
awash in damp Kleenex (after soaking his proffered, perfect
handkerchief), I turned to him and whispered, "Peter, even boys
"Yes," Peter replied, eyes on the screen and the slightest
smile curling the edge of his mouth, "but film critics
Peter, I miss your sentimental-sardonic self
My parents went to high school with Peter Ross's father, and my
sister and I periodically had supper with the Ross family when we
were young children.
The years went by, each child going his or her own way, and it
wasn't until five years ago that I ran into Peter at the airport
when we were on the same flight back to San Francisco. I had my
toddler son with me, and was traveling alone, and Peter grabbed all
my bags and helped us get settled.
Later, midway through the flight, Peter found me again to see if he
could be of use in any way. We got together a few times after that,
and began an e-mail friendship that kept us both amused. I loved
Peter's fine mind and his sharp wit, and I teased him about his
strongly held opinions and judgments. On a recent visit to my house,
Peter noticed some CDs lying around and mentioned that I always
displayed "such good taste in music."
"Why?" I shot back, "because it matches yours?"
I think he smiled. Although I didn't really know him long enough or
well enough, I clearly saw into his heart, which, big as it was,
couldn't contain all the sadness in this world.
I miss you, Peter.
When I thought about things "after the fact" I realized
that I have known Peter "forever", i.e. for almost all of
my life in America. We taught together in the old composition
clinic, which, of course, now has made room for new townhouses, we
took in some jazz at Union Street (Peter always with mentholed
cigarillo in hand), shared Wayne State's gossip and a vein for
Peter always has been a very generous friend to
me. When I was down and out for a while and thinking about leaving
this country forever, he took me in for weeks and tolerated my
listening to the same Bob Dylan song over and again. I am sure, I
burnt this particular record of his to dust. I, in turn,
sentimentalized with him to the tunes of Patti Smith, his all time
Although he moved away, we always stayed in touch and visited each
There were 6 o'clock bat watches in Pennsylvania, nightly walks from
his and Suzanne's apartment in San Francisco and the occasional bold
moped tour through the hilly, foggy terrains of that very city he
really called home on his visit here in August.
Strange as it may seem, Peter was an emotional "comfort
rock" for me. I could always count on him to listen to me, make
a wisecrack or answer some banal question about Americana for me.
I will miss Peter dearly! Coming to think of it, the last joke he
sent me a couple of weeks ago was - of course - about cats!!!
Annegret, the German from the English Department.
You dapper, witty, courteous, generous, brilliant, kind-hearted
I will think of you often for the rest of my life, and train myself
not too saddened when I do so. I will semi-reverently smoke the four
packs of Shermans' you injudiciously left behind -- a $20 value, I
Your spirit won't dissipate like your cigs' smoke, I know. You were
loved by a whole shitload of fine people, and you'll live on in us.
Whether the actual "you" is just plain dead & gone; is
reincarnated as a tree, a bedbug, a kiwi, a housecat or a sultan; or
is floating around hither & thither like a cloud with eyes, ears
and a jet engine affixed, I don't know. But if you're simply
disembodied, my friend, be no longer troubled.
Peter was married to my mom for most of my adult life and was
my friend (which is much better than being a "stepfather) until
his illness unfortunately drove us apart. He taught me about
pottery, fiesta-ware, old movies, good beer and saved me from
joining a political cult masking as a buddhist study group. His
sense of humor at its best was rivaled by none.
He loved my 4 year old twin sons without reserve. When he
was helping me out when they were about 3 months old, he used
to prop them up in front on old b/w foreign movies while fixing
their bottles at 5 am - none of this Sesame Street nonsense for
Peter. I'm sorry they won't be able to benefit from his humor and
wisdom as they grow.
Goodbye Peter and while this will make you cringe - you are in our
prayers and we wish you peace & love in God.
Cindy, Bill, Nick, Sam & Isabelle
Schneider Huot remembers:
Where to begin my memories of Peter.... he
captured my sister's heart, and that was enough for him to capture
mine. In grieving for Peter, I needed to eulogize him with someone
but alas no one who loved him and appreciated him was close at hand.
So I met a good friend who knew I needed him at that moment. My
private eulogy began at a local coffee shop in New Orleans. I
described Peter as intelligent, witty, eccentric, a collector of all
sorts, a writer, a critic, and a cat lover. Physically, a small
framed man reminiscent of a English or History professor stuck
somewhere in the past. I could not attribute his dress to any
particular era but described his tweeds, caps, scarves and bowties.
I told my friend that Peter would converse on a broad range of
subjects, and have some fascinating perspectives. I shared a few
gems with him over the next hour.
Well, my friend and I cried together and
laughed together, and then he said, "Paula, I feel like I know
Peter, I surely would have liked him, and know you grieve."
(Fournier) Sandweiss remembers:
What I admired most about Peter was his
compassionate and generous spirit toward any creature--two- or
four-legged--that was vulnerable, at-risk, outcast, on the fringe. I
member the sapphire sky and biting cold
of Christmas morning 1981, when he and I delivered "Meals on
Wheels" to shut-ins in the Cass Corridor, his VW beetle
fishtailing through the ruts in the unplowed Detroit streets, snow
drifts 5 feet high everywhere. Animals, too, perceived his gentle
and nurturing character. My cat, Motown, a stray calico from the GM
Poletown development, was malnourished when I got her and wary of
everyone, except her personal caterer, Peter, who never failed to
bring her a little foil packet of some delicacy--turkey, salmon,
sole, prime rib. They were the best of buddies, although she scorned
Andy Warhol had nothing on Peter when it came to shopping. Going to
a flea market with Peter was an intense learning experience, because
he had his finger on the pulse of material culture and never failed
to discern upcoming trends and what would become collectable. The
1950s furniture he pointed out to me at flea markets back in the
early 80s now sells for 10-20 times what it did back then. Ditto the
California copper costume jewelry that he said I should snare
whenever possible. My collection of furniture,
art, and personal items was greatly influenced by Peter's astute
judgement and discriminating aesthetic sense. He taught me a great
deal, including how to tie a men's bow tie--a skill that doesn't
come in handy that often, but never fails to impress.
As anyone who was close to Peter knows, it wasn't pretty when you
got on his bad side. His middle initial could have been J--for
Judgmental. He held me personally responsible for Ronald Reagan
winning the election in 1980, because I had shamefacedly admitted
that I hadn't voted. He periodically harped about it through
Reagan's two terms; it worked: I have never failed to do my civic
duty since. It was easy for Peter to become disappointed in others,
because he had such lofty moral and ethical standards. Yet, he
applied those standards to himself relentlessly and always gave
failing grade. There was no gray zone with Peter. The world was made
of binary oppositions.
As I told Peter's and my dear friend, Tyrone Williams, who had the
difficult task of calling me with the news of his death, "I
cannot imagine the world without Peter in it." None of us can.
KY (formally Lee Becker) remembers:
I came to know - communicate - with Peter
after my husbands death in 1991. I had met Peter only one time when
he still lived at his parents house, before I had met my husband. He
may have been around here and there at assorted functions, BufeLand,
the 10 mile House or the White Lake House back in the 70's, but I
don't recall. I found it interesting that he took enough time to
communicate with me, even though he didn't know me. He would always
ask me if I would remember this person or if I knew of a particular
person that went to Ferndale. We talked on the phone, we did snail
mail, which became email later. The last thing he emailed me, which
I will treasure forever, are a few pictures of himself with Tony
Bleecker from the 70's, in his Bow-Ties! I'm sure going to miss his
wit, his emails and jokes!
There are no words for the
gifts--intellectual, ethical and material--Peter bequeathed to me,
for the memories of our talks, meals, visits, trips...Something in
me has died...
Suzanne and I met on one of those
unexpected crossroads and became friends for as long as it took her
to smoke a cigarette and both of us to enjoy a cappucino. After I
met Peter, I felt as though a wall of steel had been constructed for
me personally. It always helps to get along with your
"girlfriend's" husband so after many efforts I wrote to
Tyrone and asked him to give me some clues. How do I get through to
this man? His advice was to stick with it because it would take me
patience and not a little frustration. Eventually Peter unfolded as
a generous, ethical, kind, obsessive ( a trait we share) person who
was able to get my cat to eat turkey and love catnip. Well, that did
it for me since Cat is not very responsive to men. The most profound
aspect of our relationship was the unspoken dreaded darkness we
shared. Peter, you are in the light. You have peace. You are free
from a pain that devoured every corner of your life. As
incomprehensible as it may be for some I understand and I honor your
Kalani! - something else I
didn't know about Peter, who will increasingly resemble in my
memory a ceramic trinket box ( rare, with a fine glaze....of
course), to the contents of which geography allowed me
infrequent and insufficient access. Within, a beguiling array
of wit, erudition ,warmth and generosity.
When I first met Peter in 1987 (88?) , I immediately warmed to
his fine sensibility: a quiet but sharp critical intelligence
and a "good eye", gilded with humor, discernment,
curiosity and compassion; a sensibility which could delight in
life's treasures but despair at the world's imperfections and
Heroically and tragically Peter seemed unwilling or unable to
find comfort between these extremes. I have plenty of memories
( but not enough): pubs in London, an Italian restaurant in
the west of Ireland, the apartment in New York City, a period
tiled vestibule in San Francisco, astute conversation,
hilarious correspondence...but above all the small mannerisms
( a gesture, a glance, a laugh , a tone of voice...) which
make someone lovable. Address books tend to shrink with age:
Peter's premature departure from mine leaves a space
impossible to fill.
Fant, Seattle WA remembers:
After moving – first Peter and Suzanne and
then my husband & self - we somehow managed to stay “in touch”
through cards and notes and letters and then e-mail.
Living in Detroit for umpteen years; many of
them spent meandering through and around the Cass Corridor gave me a
storehouse of memories: memories of the Dally in the Alley, living
in Woodbridge, working Downtown and all interconnected. It was a
beautiful Fall day here in Seattle yesterday with the sun shining,
the leaves red and gold and yellow. I saw Old Main in the glow and a
glimpse of Peter waving as he rushed across campus to a class –
tweed jacketed and bow tied. I think he must have left behind the
largest and most complete collection of bow ties one could
Then I had another memory of Peter smiling – Peter positively
beaming at his and Suzanne’s wedding reception at Union Street.
Memories of Cal Burnett’s scathing movie reviews, the perfect
Bloody Mary mixed by Peter – two cats as big as most dogs
observing – Peter treasure-hunting at the Royal Oak Market (and 52
other haunts) always finding some bit of obscure (to me) beautiful
thing and having the ability to name, date and tell you it’s
merits. Then there are the memories of Peter’s commentary – the
humor, kindness, insights, and the bite. A vision of Peter as a
porcupine protecting his tender heart.
I could go on, but won’t. Suffice it to say that if memories and
thoughts have substance and I believe they do; then Peter has left
us all with much to be treasured parts of himself.
P.S.: Dear Peter: In spite of the Pollyanna
brave face I’d put on it, I must tell you that every day I think
of at least two or three things to say to you – to discuss – to
talk about. You are sadly not there to answer and I selfishly wish
for a change of plots – a re-write. I want it to be all twenty
novels or like the Parkers to go on and on.
The first time I met Peter, we
didn’t really meet we had an encounter. As luck would have it, I
was assigned to Peter’s cubicle for the evening shift in the
English tutorial lab at WSU sometime in the eighties.
The first time I took my new desk, I found myself surrounded by
Peter’s post cards. It was truly the most eclectic and bizarre
array of post cards I had ever seen. From Colette to Chaplin,
Frankenstien to Freud, Nietzche to Nanook of the North there were
literally dozens of post cards.
They were everywhere I looked. “Who is this strange fellow with
the postcards?” I asked myself at the time. So, rather naively, I
left a note on the desk asking this very question. The next time I
showed up to work, there was a note left behind that read:
‘There is, unfortunately, not enough desks in this rundown,
mismanaged tutorial lab for everyone to get their own. I have,
therefore, had the misfortune of having to share my desk with you.
In the future, please refrain from looking at my post cards as they
are none of your stinking business. On another subject, what kind of
second rate education is this institute dishing out when they hire
tutors who end their sentences with dangling participals? Regards,
“Bad day at the office, dear?” is what I wrote back and
we had been friends ever since.
Over the years I have found that Peter was more pussycat than lion
and his meow was always worse than his hiss. He always knew how to
make me laugh out loud with his ridiculous turn of phrase, he never
failed to say something that made me curse his existence and he
never once forgot my birthday.
From here on in, when I think of Peter, I shall always think of
laughter, post cards and birthdays.
Peter was my friend for 17 years and the world
for me has become a different place without his loyalty,
camaraderie, and wit. He has left an enormous vacuum, socially,
philosophically and artistically. Thinking about him, a man of great
contrasts and enigma emerges v yet he was all of a piece.
He was funny and sad He was hip and
traditional. He was irreverent, but never vulgar He was a scholar.
He was a connoisseur. He was clean and orderly and neat and he rode
a motorcycle (crash helmet, collar and tie). He was young and old.
He was eccentric. He was an unemployed authority on French &
Viennese porcelains and glass, 30's American design pottery, English
china. He was an expert on the decorative arts of this century. He
was the most gifted of the collectors of Japanese prints. He was an
appreciator of literature, and greatly loved all kinds of music. He
loved film ... hated theater. And when I say he knew film, I don't
mean just the actors v he knew the director and the history of the
director, the producers, the dates and the writers. He was a film
critic for the Detroit paper. He loved animals and would protect the
life of an ant. He was, of course, a strict vegetarian. He was
moral, ethical, generous, kind and helpful - and occasionally would
confide deeply. He loved flowers and nature, but was an unbeliever
of God. Children responded to him with love and trust. He was strong
minded, but lost his way. He suffered unbearable loneliness and
feared the night. He felt unloved, but was loved. Now he is gone and
he is missed. What an extraordinary man - I feel as Horatio did
about his friend when he died. He said, "Goodnight sweet prince
and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
If anyone wishes to
contribute memories, pictures of Peter, please email
me - I'll place it here.