Gary M. Peterson
1951 - 1998
Dr. Gary M. Peterson, Associate Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at East Carolina University School of Medicine in Greenville, NC, died Sunday, November 22, 1998 after a car hit his bicycle from behind. Dr. Peterson is survived by his wife and two daughters, his mother, a brother, two sisters, and one grandson. A native of San Jose, CA., Dr. Peterson completed a degree in Psychology at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif in 1973. Realizing that the brain was the master of behavior, he embarked on the study of neuroscience at the University of California at San Diego and received his Ph.D. under the direction of R.Y. Moore in 1979. Exemplifying his passion for studying the role of the hippocampus in neuroplasticity and epilepsy, he received postdoctoral training with Dr. Maxwell Cowan at the Salk Institute from 1980-83, with Dr. Charles Ribak, at U.C. Irvine from 1983-85, and with Fred Gage at UCSD from 1985-86. Illustrating his passion for travel and other cultures, Dr. Peterson was the recipient of an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship for research performed with Michael Frotscher in Freiburg, Germany, a Finnish Academy of Sciences collaborative research grant, and a Merrit-Putnam International Visiting Professorship in Moscow, Russia. He sponsored a Fogarty/NINDS fellowship for Dr. Olga Timofeeva from Moscow which led to a fruitful and continued collaboration on epilepsy research.
At the time of his death, Gary Peterson was president of the N.C. Society for Neuroscience. He was a member of the Society for Neuroscience, IBRO, The Cajal Club, the NC Association for Biomedical Research, the American Association of Anatomists, and the Alexander von Humboldt Association of America.
Gary Peterson's most recent contributions to epilepsy research, performed in collaboration with his Russian colleague, Dr. Timofeeva, are related to clarification of the role of hippocampal mossy fiber sprouting in TLE, creation of a new, clinically more accurate, model of TLE, understanding the mechanisms of status epilepticus in chronic epileptics, investigation of the propagation of seizure and interictal spike activity among forebrain structures with an epileptic focus created in the ventral hippocampus or in piriform cortex, studying the role of the piriform cortex in epilepsy, analysis of the electrographic and behavioral manifestations of the prolonged convulsive state, and the phenomenon of adaptation.
In addition to traveling and immersing himself in the lives of people from other cultures, Dr. Peterson was an artistic photographer who enjoyed hiking and diving, skiing and dancing. He enthusiastically participated in bicycle races and car shows organized to raise money needed for treatment of different diseases. In that spirit, he was recently certified to instruct handicapped persons in scuba-diving at Pitt County Memorial Hospital's Aquatic Center in Greenville.
Gary was warm, sensitive, and friendly with an overflowing enthusiasm for life. Students gave him rave reviews and appreciated his alternative methods of teaching that gave them an active role in their education. Besides his teching at ECU, Gary taught neuroscience in Guadalajara, Mexico and in Antigua. Gary*s philosophy was that his students should not just "borow" but "own" the subject matter they were studying. Gary's department chair, Dr. Jack Brinn said, "Gary was on the edge of everything he did. He was a very caring person and I think if you had an opportunity to look around, you would find a number of people that he had helped out of a personal crisis." G. W. Lanford, who worked with Gary Peterson for the last ten years, said, "I learned and understood some of the enthusiasm for science and life Gary displayed. His dedication to excellence and scientific integrity was paramount. Gary's attention to detail taught me that if you have the talent and skill to do something well, doing anything less then that would be cheating yourself. His goal was always to be in front of the pack. Doing science and developing new teaching ideas was fun; I'll miss it." Dr. Olga Timofeeva, his close collaborator, said, "I came to ECU School of Medicine to work with Gary Peterson on an epilepsy project as a NINDS/Fogarty fellow. While I was in Moscow, we wrote a grant together using email communication and got it! I came to Dr. Peterson*s lab at the end of 1994 and entered a world of enthusiasm, inspiration, and creativity. Gary helped me to understand the new culture and to adjust to new circumstances. He was an infatiguable helper to everybody who asked for his help or if he was aware that someone was in need."
Finally, as Donna Mooneyham, an aquatic therapist who was working with Gary to establish the scuba diving class for persons with disabilities, noted, "He was a great spirit dedicated to improving life in every aspect. He did what he wanted in life and left earth just as he lived. He will be greatly missed."