Known as Delaware’s “environmental” governor, Russell Peterson died Monday night at his home surrounded by his wife June and other family members.
Peterson was elected as Delaware’s 71st Governor serving from 1969 to 1973. The long lasting legacy of his one term in office is the passage of the Coastal Zone Act. The act which was narrowly approved by the General Assembly is designed to protect Delaware’s coastline from development. Peterson was also responsible for the reorganization of state government from a commission model into the cabinet model that continues today.
Delaware’s current Governor Jack Markell visited with Peterson just last week. He says, “Our state mourns the passing of a true legend. Russ Peterson lived the kind of life that leaves multiple legacies, each making a profound and positive difference.” Markell has ordered both U.S. and state flags to be lowered to half-staff until further notice in honor of Peterson’s life.
The hard fight for the Coastal Zone Act likely cost Peterson a future in elected office, but he stayed active in public service, joining the Council on Environmental Quality. He was also president of the National Audubon Society from 1979 through 1985.
Peterson’s legacy as an environmental crusader lives on at the Wilmington Riverfront. A nature preserve named in Peterson’s honor is designed to bring wildlife education and recreation to an urban setting. The Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge sits on the southern edge of the Wilmington Riverfront is also home to an environmental education center.