Former Delaware Gov. Russell Wilbur “Russ” Peterson died the evening of Feb. 21 at his home in the company of his wife June and family.


Former Delaware Gov. Russell Wilbur “Russ” Peterson died the evening of Feb. 21 at his home in the company of his wife June and family.

“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,” said Gov. Jack Markell, who visited Peterson last week. “I was blessed to count him as both a mentor and a friend. He was a source of wisdom and strength.”

Born in 1916, Peterson led a life of remarkable and varied accomplishments. In his first career, which was focused on science, Peterson earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin and rose to become an executive with the DuPont Company.

He was then elected governor of Delaware, serving from 1969-1973. During his time in office, Peterson’s accomplishments included reorganizing state government from a Commission model to the Cabinet model that is still in use. But his signature achievement remains the Coastal Zone Act of 1972, which continues to protect Delaware’s coastline from development.

After leaving the governor’s office, Peterson served the president as chair of the Council on Environment Quality (1973-1976) where he co-chaired a task force that helped trigger the phase out of chlorofluorocarbons from aerosol sprays and was president of the National Audubon Society (1979-1985). Peterson remained very active in the environmental movement, as an author and speaker, and in his home state of Delaware. He has earned hundreds of awards and honors, including Conservationist of the Year from the National Wildlife Federation and the state’s dedication of the Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge along the Riverfront in Wilmington.