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MIT mathematics professor dies at 70; was member of faculty for 42 years

Franklin P. Peterson
Franklin P. Peterson

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Professor Franklin P. Peterson, 70, who taught mathematics at MIT for 42 years, died of a stroke last Friday (Sept. 1) while visiting friends near Washington, DC.

Professor Peterson served as treasurer of the American Mathematical Society for 25 years, from 1974-98, and edited Transactions of the AMS from 1966-70. He resided in Chestnut Hill, MA.

He was a dedicated and beloved teacher of graduate subjects and undergraduate core lectures. As an advisor, he guided 23 graduate students to their PhDs. He also served three terms as chair of the Department of Mathematics' Pure Mathematics Committee, from 1972-75, 1979-82, and 1984-87. Professor Peterson co-authored papers with 23 mathematicians, two of whom were his students.

An internationally respected algebraic topologist, Professor Peterson specialized in the study of cohomology operations. The complex interplay between geometric and algebraic topology was a hallmark of his work, and many of the fundamental structures of both subjects bear his imprint.

He lectured at numerous international colloquia and symposia and maintained extensive contacts at key research institutes in this country and abroad. He participated in summer programs at Kyoto University in Japan and the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

Professor Peterson's friends knew him as a bon vivant who enjoyed fine foods and vintage wines. He and his wife, Marilyn, studied cooking in Paris for a time. Upon his retirement as AMS secretary in 1998, colleagues recalled hard feelings among the office staff often were soothed over lunch at his home, which sometimes included opening a bottle of fine wine from his extensive stock.

Friends also recalled that he played bridge, tennis, and table tennis with the rare combination of competitiveness and unfailing good humor.

Born on August 27, 1930 in Aurora, IL, Professor Peterson received the BS degree from Northwestern University in 1952 and the PhD from Princeton in 1955. He was a lecturer at Princeton until 1958 when he came to MIT as an assistant professor. He became a full professor in 1965.

A graveside service was held in Naperville, IL, on Tuesday. Professor Peterson is survived by his wife.

A memorial for Professor Peterson will be scheduled at MIT.

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