Who was George Peter?

Eric Lee
George Peter

The Employee Assembly’s most prestigious award given to staff is known as the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service. The EA would like to highlight the life of George Peter and how instrumental he was to the progression of staff visibility and involvement at Cornell.  

George was hired at Cornell in 1947 as an electronics technician and spent 41 years as an active employee. Throughout that time period he made the word “communication” his mantra. Many years ago the Cornell Chronicle focused on faculty, research and students, and did not highlight staff successes. George and others pushed for a newspaper that would allow for better communication and highlight the contributions of staff. In 1980 George would help found the “Networking” newspaper, which in 1995 would be renamed “Pawprint.”

George was also a founder of the Cornell Recreation Connection and Employee Day. During the 1969 Willard Straight take-over, George became a vocal advocate for a greater role of staff in Cornell governance, and in 1975 would become the first employee-elected trustee, a position that he would hold for four terms.

While George Peter had many accomplishments throughout his illustrious career at Cornell, it was how he touched many people’s lives that stand out most. Hazel Hall, a current EA member, worked with George, and one of her most important memories was sitting next to him at her first President’s Address, by the new President David Skorton: “When the president was done, George looked at me and said, ‘he is going to be a very good president for staff.’ I asked how he knew and he stated, ‘he said staff in his speech more than 20 times, so he is a true person.’ I will never forget that.” Mary Opperman, vice president for human resources, met George after he had already retired from Cornell, but he gave her his time, wisdom and guidance. He introduced her to staff and faculty around the university, making sure they knew she had his support. “George really cared about the staff of Cornell. He was vocal when he believed they were not being acknowledged and he was not afraid to make his concerns known. George was also an amazing family man – he loved his wife Gloria and his children. He cared for Gloria as her health declined in the home they had on the lake in Aurora,” Mary said.

George Peter was a legend in advocating for Cornell staff. He touched many lives with his energy, excitement, kindness and his passion for Cornell. He had an unwavering belief in the special value of each individual. In 1999 the Employee Assembly renamed the Dedicated Service Award as the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service, honoring George for the 41 years of service to Cornell and his advocacy for its staff. George made a point to attend the presentations of the award at the staff member’s location on campus, even after he retired, a tradition the EA continues. It is a great honor to be awarded the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service and the EA is passionate about this award just as George was passionate about Cornell. While George may no longer be with us, his name and legacy live on through this award, honoring those staff members who have served Cornell, positively impacting those around them and leaving their own legacy. 

Cornell is full of deserving individuals and the EA highly encourages Cornell community members to nominate a staff member whom you believe should be considered for the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service TODAY.

-- Eric Lee is the chair of the EA’s communications committee, and a medical technologist in the Animal Health Diagnostic Center. He credits Dennis Stein’s tribute to George Peter in the August 15, 2008 issue of Pawprint for much of the background biographical material for this article.