Wayne Peters came to Lowell to serve as Superintendent of Schools. Later he was elected to the Lowell School Committee and then to the City Council. His son, Jim Peters, a frequent contributor to this site, informs us that his dad passed away this morning in Florida and offers the following remembrance:
OK, I realize that I wrote that I would do a Native American article next time I submitted something, but my news is kind of big and I would like to share it. My father died this morning, the 13th. of July, of mesothilioma. He put up one hell of a fight, and I am very proud of him for doing so, I do not think I could be as strong.
He wanted me to say that he was proud of his Navy Service, that he wanted to be buried in Lowell, and that he loved his wife and nine children – plus the assorted grandchildren and great grandchild. He wanted you to know how happy he was that the City Council voted to name something after him. While we do not know what it is we wait with the proverbial “bated breath.”
He was proud of his long record in school administration, proud of his short time as a school bus driver, and very much in love with, and proud of his wife, Jeanne. He wanted a simple ceremony, so that is what he will have. He will be laid to rest at St. Patrick’s Cemetery, but I do not know when or how. My mother is doing the planning.
For those of you who have read these meanderings on my Dad, let me thank you. For those who have not, you just missed a flurry of emotions written down, hopefully with some finesse, about this son’s relationship with his father. It was a good relationship, one which stressed success and faithfulness. You probably did not miss much.
So what did my father achieve in Lowell, for instance? He came as Superintendent of Schools from a place that was not at all like Lowell. He instituted an open classroom, where the students would have to be responsible not only for their grades but for their attendance in class. You can bet that one did not fly well with the two (at that time) teacher’s unions. Where they saw chaos, he saw responsibility and freedom. His proudest moment in the job was when the Class of 1972 roundly gave him a standing ovation at their graduation. Not because they had a taste of freedom, for that was all we got out of it, but because we learned. I know of more doctors and lawyers and, yes, in fact, Indian Chiefs in those three classes who experienced that freedom than I did from any class that has not had that personal freedom.
He just came from a different state, where kids were sent home for lunches and adults had time to do some schoolwork while the school was quiet.
Under the then often used, only in Lowell, McCarthy Test for Certification 850 teachers were illegally holding down jobs that the state refused to recognize. It the state had its way, 850 teachers would have been dismissed (give or take ten to twenty). He enrolled those teachers in special classes, teaching them how to teach according to the state’s guidelines. Because of these classes and the emphasis on teaching to the state’s requirements, of the 880 or so teachers affected, 850 were certified. Some chose not to go back to school to obtain certification.
That is how he remembered it, and that was how I remember it.
When he came here, there was talk of need for a new high school, as well as the need for other schools. He knew that the then poor mill town could not afford to build a new high school, so he went through the existing one and found thirty classrooms. He toured other schools and found space. The cost to the taxpayers was minimal because the custodial staff did most of the construction. Outside contractors did the rest. Rooms that he found are still used today. I know because I used them as a teacher. We even found room to expand the library from maybe a couple of thousand books to an indeterminate number of books. He ordered the books with glee.
I wish I could say that he put a lot of emphasis on football or wrestling. He went to wrestling tournaments because his son, Tom, was a very good wrestler. But he did not spend a great deal of money on the programs. The money went into academics.
I hope that answers some questions, because over the years I have been asked some of those questions. He had a staff of seven, the current Superintendent has a staff probably ten times that size.
When he got into the School Committee with a five thousand vote spread between himself and the number two contender, he spent a great deal of time questioning the Superintendent. Not because he wanted his old job back, he had easily landed a job in Holbrook, MA. which he commuted to, but because he did not believe that this was the best man for the job.
When he won election to the City Council, he again topped the ticket, something no one has done before or since, as far as my sources tell me. He became Vice Mayor and organized a sailboat regatta with neighboring towns, one town ended in the Merrimack. He and Zenny Speronis saw to Zenny’s dream of building a sailing fleet on the Merrimack River. Many of those boats, which were contributed by local corporations, still float in the Lawrence Summer Sailing program.
He wrote a book about the Middlesex Canal which is still on sale at the Middlesex Canal Museum. It costs ten dollars. It contained fictional characters against the very real backdrop of what was then Middlesex Village near Hadley Park. He tried to get people interested in saving those buildings, but a chicken place, a doughnut place, and other places later, there is not that much to save anymore. Except the Hadley House. That museum piece was moved next to the Francis Gates and should be refurbished. He still wanted, to his death, to see those historic homes in Middlesex Village saved. Perhaps they will be.
Approximately, fifteen years ago, he and my mother moved to Naples, Florida. My mother to sell real estate, he to earn extra money driving a school bus. For the past five years I have called him two, sometimes three, times per week. We cooked up some grand schemes together, including a Native American History Museum in Lowell. I believe it will happen. But it, and a number of other pies he had his fingers into, do not have their hero any longer. I guess that is the way that God wants it.