Peterman had represented Delaware's 33rd District since 2010.
The family of Rep. Jack Peterman, R-Milford, has announced the incumbent legislator passed away from an undisclosed illness the morning of Aug. 10.
Peterman had observed his 74th birthday July 31, said Joe Fulgham, of the House Republican Caucus.
Following surgery to treat prostate cancer in March, Peterman announced he would not seek re-election in 2016.
In a letter mailed to his 33rd Representative District constituents at the time, Peterman wrote, “Throughout my life, I have always devoted my full commitment and energy to every job. My responsibilities to you in public service demand that same commitment.
“After a lot of prayer and soul-searching, I’ve decided not to seek your support and run for re-election this November.”
First elected to the State House of Representatives in 2010, Peterman was finishing his third, two-year term. He was previously elected to Kent County Levy Court in 1990, servicing four terms as a commissioner and Levy Court president.
‘An inspiration to his colleagues’
Officials from both political parties praised Peterman’s service.
Gov. Jack Markell offered his thoughts and prayers upon learning of Peterman’s death.
"Jack was a fixture in the Milford community who was proud to represent his hometown in the General Assembly, where he continued the service he started over many years of civic engagement,” Markell said.
“I know his colleagues and friends admired the courage and determination with which he battled recent health challenges and I was saddened to learn of his passing today.”
Peterman had struggled with health issues in recent years, undergoing multiple surgeries on his back to correct pinched nerves that caused chronic pain and impaired motor function.
“Jack Peterman was an inspiration to his colleagues in the General Assembly,” said State House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford.
“Over the last three years of his life, he was in almost constant pain,” Short said. “There were many occasions during that period when his health would have been better served by his remaining at home, but he pushed himself to get to the capitol just to ensure his constituents were heard in the legislature.”
State House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne, lauded Peterman’s dedication and service as well.
“Jack was usually mild-mannered, but he was always ready to dig in his heels in defense of a position or an issue that impacted his district,” Hudson said. “He brought a unique perspective and insight to the public policy debate that cannot be replaced and will be missed for its absence.”
Shortly after Peterman’s passing was announced, House Speaker Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, issues a statement on behalf of the entire Democratic caucus.
“Representative Peterman was an honorable and conscientious man who served his community of Milford with distinction and determination for much of his life,” Schwartzkopf wrote. “Even in the face of personal tragedy and hardship, his spirit for public service never weakened. While we may have been on opposite sides of many issues in Legislative Hall, Jack Peterman remained at all times a gentleman, and we are proud to have called him our colleague.”
Charlie Copeland, chairman of the Delaware Republican Party, and Hank McCann, chairman of the Kent County Republican Party, released a joint statement upon hearing of Peterman’s death.
“On behalf of all Delaware Republicans we wish to express our heartfelt sympathy to Jack’s family and friends at this difficult time,” they said. “Today, Jack is reunited with his wife, Sandy, and granddaughter, Madison, which brings some solace to an otherwise sad day.
“Jack Peterman was not only a member of our party, but he was our friend. His work on behalf of the residents of the 33rd District was an example of what it truly means to be a public servant. All who crossed Jack Peterman’s path were met with his infectious smile and his warm spirit that will never be matched.”
Peterman’s wife, Sandra, and their granddaughter, Madison, 9, were killed April 13, 2009 when their car was hit by a propane truck on U.S. Route 113 near Milford. Madison’s friend, Hannah Davies, 8, of Felton also died in the crash.
Funeral plans pending
A lifelong resident of the Milford area, Peterman graduated from Milford High School and earned his living in agriculture – one of the few serving state legislators with farming experience. He was a former board member of the Frederica Senior Center, a past president of the Frederica Lions Club, and a former board member of the Food Bank of Delaware.
In the legislature, Peterman had served on the House Agriculture, Housing and Community Affairs, Natural Resources and Veterans Affairs committees.
The 33rd District seat will remain vacant until a successor is elected in November, Fulgham said. The district, in southeast Kent County, includes the municipalities of Magnolia, Bowers Beach, Frederica, Houston, and the northern portion of Milford.
Funeral arrangements are pending, Fulgham said.