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In Memory of Chris Peterson

Dr. Christopher Peterson was one of the founders of the MAPP program.  For several years, he traveled from his home university, University of Michigan, to the Penn Campus to instruct MAPP students in research methods and character strengths.  He advised many students through their capstone projects.  His words, "Other people matter," resonated throughout the program.  In cooperation with Penn, the MAPP Alumni have set up a scholarship fund to honor his memory.

Here are some ways to bring Chris back to mind:
Members of the MAPP Alumni community are invited to log in and add memories to the blog below. These memories will be visible to everybody.

  • 24 Sep 2014 10:35 AM | Shannon Polly

    I loved the way Chris’ voice rumbled in the back of his throat like an oncoming train. I loved the way he would look up and to the left and say ‘um’ at the end of every phrase, as if searching for the perfect way to convey his thought. And I loved the way he would lean back against the chalkboard, rest his hands on his stomach and consider every question from a student as if it was a brilliant one.

    He was a moral compass as a teacher without being judgmental. Which is quite remarkable, really.

    I have two particularly fond memories of Chris.

    At the end of our MAPP year, we wanted to give a meaningful gift to our instructors. So, Angie LeVann (a brilliant photographer) took a photo of each student or group of students embodying one of their VIA signature strengths so that we had all 24 strengths represented. The creativity of each student came out in the setting for the photos and a little ingenuity came out as well so that we took the photos when the teachers weren’t looking. Then Louisa Jewell put them all together in poster format and we presented the framed photos/poster at the end of our last class to each teacher.

    Chris was truly touched at the gesture…and then he made a crack about how amazing it was we were able to organize ourselves. He asked for a full sized version to hang in his office at the University of Michigan. It was a proud moment to be able to thank him for something he had devoted so much of his scholarship to create.

    Another memory is at the end of the IPPA First World Congress in Philly when a group of us were hanging out. Someone mentioned the little positivity ditty I wrote for my MAPP class and asked me to get up and sing it. I demurred. The thought of singing in front of some of positive psychology’s luminaries was more than a bit mortifying. Then Suzie Pileggi pulled up a video of the song and proceeded to play it. I don’t quite remember, but I think Chris laughed at the humor in it.

    smokey robinsonI’ll never forget sitting next to Chris at some point later in the evening and he leaned over to me and said, “Do you know any Smokey Robinson?”

    I wasn’t sure if he was making a request or making conversation, but in that moment I felt numerous emotions. In an instant, I was relieved from my embarrassment, surprised and honored to be ‘seen’ and disappointed that I didn’t actually know any Smokey Robinson. I would have sung ’99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall’ if Chris Peterson specifically asked me to. He spoke for a few minutes about Smokey’s songs and then said, “You really should look him up.” It wasn’t an admonition. It was more like a kind piece of advice from one music lover to another.

    Like a dutiful student I promptly put, “Smokey Robinson” on my TO DO list…and then it fell to the bottom (and fell off) as competing priorities took over.

    The morning after I found about his passing, I thought, “How can we do some good in the world…to honor his memory?” Because of the person Chris was, I wasn’t the only student to have that thought, or the only student to think that a scholarship in his honor would be one fitting way to celebrate a professor so generous to others that his colleagues called him ‘Mother Theresa’. (I would daresay there are few people who could even earn a nickname like that.) So a group of students have started that endeavor. If you would like to contribute you can go to: http://mappalum.org/Donation and mention Chris in the “in Honor of” section.

    I looked up some Smokey Robinson recently. I wish I’d done it sooner.

  • 18 Feb 2014 8:33 PM | Louis Alloro

    The last time I saw Chris was at the bar at Mason Inn on George Mason’s Campus. (I’m a Fellow in the Center for the Advancement of Wellbeing here–at the University, not the bar–and SOMO is a project of the Center.) 

    I had such a nice interaction with him that moment. He looked me in the eyes, cocked his head, and said “You’re doing amazing work, Louis. Keep it up. You’re helping people improve their lives and that’s the most important part.”

    I was so honored to be seen by him, so humble and wise. He made me matter. I think about the sincerity of that moment with Chris when I get stressed or burnt out. It helps bring me back to his notions of resilience, strength, and character undefined all of which, like him, are timeless.

    Thanks for being my friend on the other side now, Chris. I love and appreciate you.

  • 15 Feb 2014 9:09 AM | Sulynn Choong
    At my first and last solo post-MAPP.01 dinner with Chris, before leaving Philadelphia for home, after 11 months away.

    Chris: So what will you do with what you have learnt in MAPP when you return to Malaysia?

    Me: I have all these ideas ... 
    ( proceed to spout a string of ideas for interventions, projects, writing, etc enthusiastically, and then stopped self-consciously)

    Oops! I am such a dreamer. 

    Chris: (in a Chris-like matter-of-fact tone) You are only a dreamer if you don't do anything with your ideas. So do them.

    PostScript: Thanks Chris for your deep & profound impact on the making of the person I have become.
  • 14 Feb 2014 3:13 PM | Dan Bowling

    This is a link to a blog I wrote for an HR magazine shortly after Chris' passing. It is the blog that Marty read from at his tribute. 

    Dan Bowling
  • 14 Feb 2014 1:27 PM | Stefan Zonia

                    When I met Professor Peterson I was an undergraduate student that tended to be both aloof and angry. I didn’t know what my direction was, and frankly, I was afraid of discovering it. I happened to take a research methods course that Chris was teaching that semester. Through his warm and welcoming style of teaching, I began to truly open up and engage in class. I became a regular at his office hours, and we would talk at great length about many things (although rarely about research methods). We developed a wonderful rapport. I took his seminar on Positive Psychology because I knew that a course taught by him would be engaging. As it turns out, this course opened my mind in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

                    Chris was constantly encouraging me to push myself, and he assisted me in achieving things that I never thought were possible. He imparted to me a sense of self-confidence that had previously been lacking. However, Chris’ greatest gift to me was that he developed into much more than an academic mentor. He had the ability to play the part of both a kind and attentive social support, but he also served as a sage and consoling father figure when I truly needed one. Chris was a true friend to me, in all senses of the word.

                    Anyone who ever spent time with Chris knew that his mantra was “Other people matter”. Most of us think that this is a wonderful sentiment, but we often do not truly take it to heart. Chris really lived those words. He was a humble and gracious man who took much more pleasure in shining the light on those around him than receiving any attention or accolades himself.

                    What I will always remember of Chris was that on our last day of our Positive Psychology seminar, in what was otherwise a day full of smiles and laughter, Chris had one sobering moment. He looked around, and his voice grew quiet and he said “It strikes me that this is the last time we will all be together here in this classroom; but that’s alright. We were all here, and it was wonderful”. Thinking back on this, I am filled with emotion. Positive emotion coming from all the fond memories I have of the time we spent together. Negative emotion from the loss and grief I will always feel for not being able to say goodbye to him. I will deeply miss Chris for the rest of my life. But I know that it’s alright, because we were both there, and it was wonderful.

  • 04 Feb 2014 4:16 PM | Marsha Snyder
    I did not know Chris (except by reputation and his scholarly genius) until shortly before his death. I met him at a conference in Canada for which we were both presenters. I was less than a year out of MAPP and trying to blaze a trail for the use of Positive Health in the medical community and with medical education. As with most of our newly post-graduate trails, it was lonely. Chris did a lot of research in Positive Health. He immediately embraced me, honored what I was trying to do, and offered helpful advice, as well as a willingness to stay in touch. Unfortunately, he did not look healthy. He was sweating. He was short of breath, and could only walk a few steps before he had to sit down and rest. As a physician, I could tell that he was in early congestive heart failure, without asking a single question or laying a stethescope on his chest. I waited until the end of our discussion. I wanted to say something to him but was afraid of offending this man for whom I had such great respect. I finally thanked him profusely for his help, and then quickly asked, "As a medical doctor, do you mind if I ask you a health related question?" He didn't mind. I asked if he had ever seen a doctor for his heart or his overall health. He had not. (This was a devastating answer under the circumstances). I said, "It is out of the tremendous gratitude and respect in my heart for you that I strongly advise you to see your doctor when you return home." I explained all the symptoms he was having and what they might mean. He thanked me, but somehow I doubt he ever went to see a doctor. He died weeks later.

    One of my callings in life is that I take care of caregivers, primarily physicians, who do not take care of themselves because their time is so heavily invested in their profession. I believe Chris Peterson was a gentleman with a purpose; he was so heavily invested in the quality and authenticity of his science as a path to longer and more flourishing lives for others. He gave endless support, love and caring to all those with whom he worked, his friends, even his acquaintences. The sadness is that he invested so much of himself in others that he never gave himself the love and caring that he so richly deserved, so that HE could live a long and flourishing life. I see this scholarship fund as a way of giving Dr. Peterson the love and caring that he never gave himself in life. He deserves to be loved and cared for.
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