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Remembering Jan Peterson

May 13, 2019
Jan courageously spoke the truth in love and placed caring for others above recognition and accomplishment.

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Jan Peterson, a faculty spouse and beloved member of the Regent Community from 1993–1998.  She blessed countless students, spouses, staff, and faculty, along with their families, with her kindness, integrity, hospitality, and humour.  She passed away on May 10, 2019, in Kalispell, Montana. Jan had been diagnosed with a brain tumour earlier in the spring.

While her husband Eugene Peterson was more well-known, some of the people he admired most were those who saw that Jan was the gem, the servant. She would endure two hours of US border traffic to regularly visit a struggling student in Bellingham. She brought containers of delicious soup to her busy doctor.  She modeled gracious resistance with a smiling-but-distinct “Eugeeene!” when she disagreed with her revered husband.

Janice Stubbs Peterson was born October 30, 1935, and grew up in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama. She took a BS in social work in 1957. Not long ago she commented, “Social work and being a pastor’s wife is kind of the same thing. It has to do with caring for people. Being interested. Relating.”

Eugene noticed Jan at an Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship mission meeting at Johns Hopkins University, where he was leading the singing. Several months later he wrote her a letter (delivered to her at the Urbana Conference) and they soon became friends. They wed eight months later in 1958 and were married sixty years.  

In 1962, Jan and Eugene were commissioned by the Presbyterian Church USA to begin a church in Bel Air, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore. Christ Our King Presbyterian Church gathered in the basement of their home for two years before building a sanctuary. The Petersons pastored there for twenty-nine years, nourishing a faithful community and raising not just their own three children, but several others.

The Petersons came to Vancouver in 1993 when Eugene was appointed the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent. Jan quickly became a favourite of many. Julie Lane-Gay—an alumna and faculty spouse at Regent—recalls, “Jan always remembered not just your name, but your children’s names, if your car was on its last legs, if your basement suite had leaks in the rain, if you were nervous about an upcoming Greek exam.”

Former Regent staff member Karen Stiller and her husband, Brent, were at Regent during Jan and Eugene’s time at the College. She recalls, “A lot of pastors have said they would not be the minister they are today without Eugene’s example…. I think my husband would say the same. And I’m also certain there are a lot of minister’s wives who learned from the example of Jan Peterson. I know I did.” 

When Jan was thirteen years old she discovered the “treasure of spiritual friendship” through her family’s neighbour, Gertrude Floyd. Jan wrote, “I often found myself walking through the back gate and knocking on Gertrude’s screen door, where I was always received with a warm welcome and a ‘Come in—I’ll get us some lemonade. You go out to the porch.’ I was beginning to understand the kind of woman I wanted to be as I grew up: I wanted to be like Gertrude. Her loving friendship showed me how powerful it was to be readily available to others—to listen, to care for them, to engage with their lives.”  

In 1998 the Petersons left Vancouver for their beloved home in northwestern Montana, where Eugene could write full time. There they worshipped in the Presbyterian church of Eugene’s youth, read novels aloud to one another, and savoured time with their grandchildren. Visitors arrived from all over the world, delighted and blessed by Jan’s genuine hospitality.

Several years ago, Jan began to write about her life of spiritual friendships, blending Scripture, wisdom, and practical experiences. Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith was published by NavPress in 2018. The book was called a “treasure.” Readers appreciated not just the helpful articulation of the value and practicalities of being a spiritual friend, but Jan’s honesty about parameters. She wrote, “Acceptance doesn’t mean you set aside healthy limits or allow people in who are going to damage you or those you love.”  

Jan courageously spoke the truth in love and placed caring for others above recognition and accomplishment. Her godliness shaped many in the Regent community and beyond. We will miss her.

Jan was preceded in death by her husband, Eugene, who passed away in October 2018.  She is survived by her three children, Karen, Eric, and Leif Peterson, her two daughters-in-law, Elizabeth and Amy, and nine grandchildren.

A public memorial service will be held at the Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp on Saturday, May 25 at 2 pm.

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