IN MEMORANDUM: Robert Peterson, Jr

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Classmate Jim McNabb recently forwarded us this tribute to Robert Peterson. Jim  reports “that the  Search Dog Foundation (SDF) was Robert’s major non-work interest. He got his BA from UC-Berkley in 1967, and law degree from USC in 1970. His bravery with a 3-year battle with colon cancer was unceasing- up to the end on September 13, 2013.” A quick google search on the Search Dog Foundation shows that their “mission is to strengthen disaster response in America by recruiting rescued dogs and partnering them with firefighters and other first responders to find people buried alive in the wreckage of disasters.” What a wonderful legacy to leave.

March 11, 1945 – September 13, 2013

A Tribute by Wilma Melville, SDF Founder

On Friday, September 13,2013, Robert Ford Peterson, Jr. passed away at the age of 68 in a Santa Barbara Hospice. With his passing, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation loses one of its own -a Founding Board member, an advisor, a friend.

A graduate of UC Berkeley, Robert practiced estate and probate law for 42 years in Ventura, serving on the SDF Board from 1996 until 2005. It took a steady hand to lead us through those times and that’s what Robert provided.

Robert helped me incorporate SDF as a nonprofit in 1996 and volunteered to become our very first Board member at an exciting, sometimes scary, often explosive time in our evolution. During those early years the Board had to make serious, complicated decisions about the direction of the organization- especially after we gained national attention when 13 SDF Search Teams were deployed to the World Trade Center disaster. .

When I first met Robert, SDF was housed in a one-room office on Signal Street in Ojai-part of a three-office suite we shared with two other organizations. Just think of this when you envision our new multi-million dollar home at the National Training Center! Believe me, without Robert we wouldn’t even be thinking about the NTC. In fact, I doubt there would even be an SDF!

One of Robert’s many contributions to SDF’s evolution was the creation of our Guardian Endowment Fund in 2002. We received a million dollars in small checks from donors all over the country who had seen our dogs search for survivors in the World Trade Center wreckage. Of course we had never seen so much money, and had no idea what to do with it.

We engaged fundraising consultant David Kaplan at that time. He advised us to channel the World Trade Center donations into savings. This wasn’t an easy decision to make, as SDF had more and more bills to pay and the thought of diverting half of the funds raised didn’t set well with some of our Board members. Robert saw the value in keeping an eye on the long term and brought forth the dedication and drive to make it happen. Today, our Guardian Endowment Fund is booming, thanks to many people who have stewarded these extraordinary gifts from our supporters.

Robert was also the moving force in establishing SearchDogsUSA, the for-profit arm of SDF. He saw the need for us to try to get away from relying on charitable donations. He wanted us to get deeper into the corporate community and he saw SDUSA as a way to do that. He worked with David and Brian Humphrey (our Board Chair in 2004) to get the company off the ground and running. He was right about SDUSA. It has brought SDF a great deal of support, notably from Nutro and Boehringer-Ingelheim, and many new friends as well.

Robert will be deeply missed by everyone on the Search Dog Foundation, but his presence will live on at the National Training Center.

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