1936 – 2021
Charles “Charley” Peterson, an accomplished geographer, cartographer, librarian, and inveterate lover of maps of all kinds, died peacefully in his home in the Willow Valley Communities in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on December 7, 2021. He was 85 years old.
Born at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on October 3, 1936 to Elsie Marie Peterson (née Prosser) and Dr. Charles Buckley Peterson, Jr., a much-loved local physician at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Charley was always soft-spoken, gentle and kind, well befitting a member of the so-called “silent generation.” He was proud to be a direct descendant of John Hart, a delegate to the Continental Congress from New Jersey, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the original Founding Fathers of the United States.
Charley was an avid reader from an early age, and he loved collecting books, stamps, coins, and maps. His extensive education included graduation with honors from J.P. McCaskey High School in Lancaster in 1954, a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and a minor in Russian language from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in 1958, and both a Master of Arts in Geography (1962) and a Ph.D. in Historical Geography (1969) from the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington. The title of his dissertation aptly portended his lifelong passions: “Geography of foreign colonization in New Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great.” He returned to school mid-career and earned a second Master’s degree, in Library Science, from Catholic University in Washington, DC in 1975.
He began his career in 1962 as a geographic analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency in McLean, Virginia, where he specialized in interpreting top secret satellite imagery. In 1974, after 12 years at the CIA, he found his calling as a senior map cataloguer in the Geography & Maps Division at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. He was responsible for cataloging, translating and transliterating maps from all over the world, which required not only extensive expertise in cartography, but also the ability to translate from hundreds different languages and dialects. Notably, in the year 2000, he donated his entire personal collection of over 14,000 maps to the Library of Congress, which honored the donation by establishing the official Charles B. Peterson Road Map Collection. He was passionately committed to his work, often voluntarily working weekends and late into the night, until his retirement after 45 years of service in 2019. He was a member of the American Library Association, the Association of American Geographers, and the American Name Society.
For most of his adult life, Charley lived in his beloved townhouse next to the C&O Canal in Georgetown, Washington, DC. He enjoyed going out to restaurants with his close circle of friends, where conversation would often turn to current events, travel, languages, and inevitably, books and maps. A lifelong bachelor, Charley is survived by his sister, Sharon Peterson Spear, who provided him with devoted and loving care in his last months of life, his nephew John Edward Spear, Jr. (married to Anders Nelson), his niece, Kristina “Kristi” Spear Bittner (married to Alexander “AJ” Bittner), as well as Kristi and AJ’s two sons, Nicholas Alexander Bittner and Ethan Hart Bittner. Most of the time the family referred to Charley fondly as “Uncle Buck,” which he good-naturedly tolerated. He will be greatly missed by all.
Per his express wishes, the family will not be holding a memorial service or funeral. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Charley’s name to a cause dear to his heart, the Lancaster Farmland Trust, at
, referencing the Charles B. Peterson III Memorial Fund.