Sept. 11, 1933-Sept. 10, 2017
John L. "Jack" Peterson passed away Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, surrounded by his wife and children, with a view from his room of the Federal Courthouse and Butte’s famous mining headframes.
Jack was a Butte guy. He was born on Sept. 11, 1933, to Roy and Lena Peterson in Butte at St. James Hospital, the same place he expired one day prior to his 84th birthday. Jack went to Monroe Grade School and Butte High School, class of 1951. He attended the Montana School of Mines and played basketball for one year. He then attended the University of Montana from 1952 to 1957, where he was a member of the Sigma Nu Fraternity, graduating with a BA in business and a law degree. He would say "any could get in, but few could finish." Of his graduating class of about 30, over half became federal judges. Somehow he maintained a relationship with the love of his life through all that adversity. He married Jean Hollingsworth June 10, 1957, the same day he graduated from law school.
Following graduation, Jack joined his golfing mentor, Joe McCaffery, in his Butte law practice in 1957. He joined the firm of McCaffery, Rowe, Kiley and Joyce, becoming a partner from 1963 to 1985. While in practice, Jack was asked to take on "a little project” for the Montana Power Company called Colstrip 3 and 4 in the 1970's. This took up a good part of his law practice for over seven years, with Jack arguing cases all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was extremely proud of the jobs this helped create for Montana and the West, and especially for Butte. He served as a part-time Montana bankruptcy referee starting in 1963. After the Bankruptcy Code was enacted in 1984, Jack made the difficult decision to sell his law practice and become a full time Federal Bankruptcy Judge in 1985. He was loyal to Butte and worked tirelessly to move the Bankruptcy Court from Great Falls to Butte. Jack retired as Chief Bankruptcy Judge for the District of Montana in November of 1999, but he continued to serve as a judge and did not fully retire until 2013 at the age of 80. At the time of his retirement, Jack was the longest serving Bankruptcy Judge in the United States. Jack’s published legal decisions fill 18 volumes and provide a comprehensive body of bankruptcy and commercial law to which lawyers still refer to today.
Jack was dedicated to community service in Butte. He served on the Butte School Board from 1971 to 1977. He was appointed to the Board of Regents in 1976 and served until 1982. He was instrumental in developing Montana Tech into a four year institution and the preservation of Western Montana College in Dillon. He worked hard to make college education affordable in Montana. This led to the higher education fund supported by the coal severance tax that provided an affordable college education for many Montana students.
He was passionate about golf. He "earned" his way through his teenage years as a caddy at the Butte Country Club, and became an accomplished golfer at an early age. He recorded 12 holes-in-one throughout his life. He served as president of the Butte Country Club, the Montana Golf Association, and was inducted into the Montana Golf Hall of Fame. Golf provided Jack with life-long friends and connections, but none more valuable than the Amen Corner group at the BCC. Famous for fast play, quick bets, witty banter and dedicated shenanigans, the group was always willing to take a newcomer’s hard earned money, and then somehow trade it back in entertainment and refreshments. Little did we know this was a life-long lesson to have fun and treat others with fairness and generosity. He now joins that exclusive group for the "greatest hole."
He was also an old school Butte Democrat. He worked hard for the common man and felt everyone deserved “a shot" and a “fair shake." He represented Montana at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 in Chicago working for life-long friend Hubert Humphrey. Whether he was on the phone with Mansfield, Metcalf, Baucus, Tip O’Neill or a myriad of Montana’s governors, you could bet he was on the lookout for Butte. He made a difference.
Jack received many life achievement awards including the prestigious William Jameson Award, the Distinguished University of Montana Alumni Award, the Montana Trial Lawyer Award, the distinguished Ninth Circuit Award, and Montana State Bar Highest Honors. But the most meaningful accomplishments to Jack were the ones that benefitted Butte and its residents.
He was extremely proud and close to his family and his extended Griz family.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Roy and Lena Peterson; his brothers, Leroy and Don Peterson; cousin, Bob Peterson; and his wife’s parents, VC and Betty Hollingsworth.
After the loss of his mother at age 13 and his father at age 19, he and his three siblings were raised by his mother’s twin sister, Hermie Westling. His "nose to the grindstone" Butte kid work ethic benefitted him not only in school, but also throughout his entire life.
Jack is survived by his wife of 60 years, Jean (Hollingsworth) Peterson and their three children: Michael (married to Gay), John (married to Nanette), and Carol Jean (CJ). He is also survived by his sister, Anna Lee Kuhr, and his grandchildren, Mikaela and Joe Purvis, Kelly Peterson, Mary and Michael Langguth, Cian Peterson, Cody Merrill and Ashley Merrill.
Funeral services will be at the First Presbyterian in Butte, Friday, Sept. 15, at 11 a.m. A celebration of his well-lived life will be at the Butte Country Club at 1 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to the UM Alumni Association (406) 243-5211, Montana Tech Foundation Development (406) 496-4804, or a charity of your choice.
As Jack loved to say, "Keep the Faith."