I learned that John Peterson, our Director of Systems Engineering and Operations, passed away yesterday evening. I will miss John. I can still see the sideways, quizzical glance and smile he gave me yesterday afternoon as the vending machine spit out 4 dollars in quarters. I can still hear his voice as he said to someone else down the hall, “he just hit the jackpot”.
My first memory of John was from my first Management Team Meeting seven years ago. There was general talk about planning and John popped off, “The mainframe will be going away July 1st.” Everyone laughed and looked at Jack Duwe, our Deputy CIO and CFO. I later learned that the mainframe was going away every year since John came to DoIT. During the seven years we worked together, John replaced the mainframe with a new improved mainframe three times.
John had a great, level-heaed, realistic management style. He told a story about his days when he was a Flight Deck Commander on an aircraft carrier. They had a broken catch wire. The ship’s captain was yelling at John on the flight deck telling him to get the wire fixed. His guys were doing their job and fixing the wire. The captain kept yelling to hurry up. John looked up to the control tower where he could see the captain looking at him, took the battery out of his headset and flicked it over the side of the ship. He tapped the headset and shrugged. “Yelling won’t make a problem go away and it rarely makes it any better” he said about the incident.
John was a great story teller and he had a rich life of stories to tell. I enjoyed when he would recount his days flying fighter jets or as a commander. He told me once about racing to get to a dentist appointment. He had a broken tooth and he didn’t want to miss the appointment. It had taken him weeks to get in and it would be weeks before he could get another appointment. For you or me, that means driving across town. For John, that meant jumping in a fighter jet and flying to another city. He got to the airport and was waiting to take off. The air traffic controller told him that the approach lanes were all stacked up with flights. There was no way to get him out of the airport and to his cruising altitude and cruising lane. John asked, “what if I get to my altitude within the airspace of the airport itself.” He really didn’t want to miss the appointment. The controller said, “that would be fine but there was no way to do that.” John said, “don’t worry, I’ll do it.” He took off and hit the afterburners and headed straight up to 30,000. He laughed because he could hear the controller over the radio saying, “Holy crap… Jesus… look at that…” “I really didn’t want to miss that appointment,” he said laughing and shaking his head.
I enjoyed running into John when he would take his flotilla of misfit dogs out to run. He would pull into the parking lot in his SUV and dogs would pile out. One old deaf cocker would just keep wandering off until John had to run after him. One lab took off and John looked for hours trying to figure out where the dog had gone. But John always stayed level headed in the mix of all this.
What did I learn from working with John? I learned that you stay calm in the midst of adversity. I learned to listen to the story and laugh with joke but also listen for the wisdom that the story holds. I learned that there is the path forward that is obvious to you but that you must have patience while it becomes apparent to others. Mostly, I learned that John was a great man to be around.
Rest In Peace John. You will be greatly missed and well remembered.