In Memoriam

Russell W. Peterson


IMAGE: Russ PetersonRuss Peterson joined the National Audubon Society in 1952, became an active birder, and through this hobby a dedicated environmentalist. He became known nationally as an environmentalist when, as governor of Delaware, he was the major force in the passage of legislation banning heavy industry from a two-mile-wide strip of Delaware's 115 mile coastline. It was the first state law of its kind and led to coastal zone legislation in other states.

His leadership as president of the National Audubon Society reflected his philosophy of bringing citizen action and holistic thinking to bear in helping humanity to live in harmony with the natural environment. Through science, education, and citizen action, he made the collective voice of the Audubon Society's 500,000 members heard by key decision makers around the country and around the world. He promoted a science and public policy emphasis, and moved Audubon into such international issues as population growth and energy.

Russ was active on the national and international scene as a strong advocate for both the appreciation and conservation of our natural and wildlife resources.

As chairman of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, he was involved in implementing the National Environmental Policy Act with concern for the whole gamut of environmental problems nationally and globally. During his tenure in this job he did much to promote the understanding that we can have both a healthy environment and a healthy economy.

He was founding Chairman of the Board of The Global Tomorrow Coalition -- an affiliation of 115 organizations concerned with population, resources and environment. He served as a director of Population Action International, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Alliance to Save Energy. He was vice-president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, president of the International Council for Bird Preservation, and president of the Better World Society. He also served as Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Solar Energy Research Institute of the US Department of Energy.

Image: Statue of Gov. Russell W. Peterson on Wilmington Riverwalk. Photo by Steven Breukelman.
Statue of former Gov. Russell Peterson, on Wilmington's Riverfront.

More recently, Russ served as co-chairman of the Governor's Task Force on the Future of the Christina and Brandywine Rivers. This task force developed a vision that included a harbor to attract visitors, upscale residences, an entertainment center, the Wilmington Riverwalk, and a 250-acre urban wildlife refuge.

Russ served on the board of the Riverfront Development Corporation, the group responsible for carrying out the revitalization efforts. The wildlife refuge, which opened in 2009, was named in his honor.

Russ received many awards during his long career, including 15 honorary doctorates. In May 1996, he joined the list of distinguished Delawareans to receive the prestigious Delaware Audubon Conservation Award.

Further cementing his place in Delaware's history, a statue of Mr. Peterson was erected at the riverfront. The statue, created by acclaimed Wilmington sculptor Charles C. Parks, depicts Peterson holding field glasses in a bird-watching stance.

In 1999, Russ published an autobiography, describing his fascinating life and career. The book, entitled Rebel with a Conscience, was published by the University of Delaware Press.

As Honorary Chairman of the Delaware Audubon Board of Directors, he has endowed us with the footsteps for a path to follow. Inspired by his life and leadership, we resolve to carry on.