Ernest Frederick Peterson passed away on August 1, 2020, just two weeks shy of his 95th birthday. Until the moment he passed, Ernie was able to remain in his home, enjoying the views of his beloved property, the smells of his freshly mowed lawn, and the sounds of his favorite bluebirds. Despite the pandemic, family and friends creatively found safe ways to visit and remain connected to him, so he was surrounded by their love and presence right through his last breath.
Ernie was born in Portland, CT, to William R. and Clara Emelia Bergeson Peterson, on August 15, 1925 and remained a very proud lifelong resident of Portland. He graduated Portland High School in 1943, after becoming a four-letter athlete in soccer, baseball, and basketball, feats which ultimately earned him membership in the Portland Sports Hall of Fame.
Upon his graduation, the world was entangled in WWII and Ernie heeded the call of duty, enlisting in the U.S. Navy. He proudly served his country on the USS John Bermingham DE530, a destroyer escort operating in convoys across the Atlantic Ocean. After the conclusion of the war, Ernie was honorably discharged and he matriculated to Upsala College, where he earned his degree in 1950. It was at Upsala, through the window of the science lab, that he met the love of his life, Phyllis Ray Smith, who went on to become his wife of 66 years before her passing in 2017.
Ernie and Phyllis settled in his beloved Portland, where they built their home, welcomed their three children (and later grand- and great-grandchildren), and became valued members of the community. Alongside his brothers, Ernie took the reins of Peterson Oil Company from his father, who had been the founder, and helped grow it into a prominent local business. He became its President and an owner and took great pride in serving Portland and the surrounding area. Ernie was active in local politics and was elected to the Portland Board of Selectman for three terms (1969-75). He was also engaged in many community organizations, serving as Director of Farmers and Mechanics Bank (1970-93), past President of the Portland Exchange Club, member of the Masons AM&FM (Warren Lodge), member of the American Legion (Ormont Post 69), past Zion Lutheran Church Council member, past President and board member of the Swedish Cemetery, Club Champion of Portland Golf Course (1982), President of the Portland United Fund (1964-65), Director of the New England Fuel Institute, and Portland Citizen of the Year (1978).
Ernie was charming, sincere, and kind—a man of the utmost integrity who was devoted to his family, friends, and community. He took great pride in his Swedish heritage, but he was unabashedly proud to be American. His shock of white hair from a young age made him stand out, but it was his effervescent smile, his firm handshake, and his extra-tight embraces that made him unforgettable. His faith was central to him, and he was a proud member of Zion Lutheran Church and its community. Ernie also had a special devotion to his property—the same land where his father established the family’s farm, and where he and Phyllis built their two family homes. He took immaculate care of his lawn and could be found mowing and riding his Gator until he was 94! Ernie and Phyllis traveled the country and the world, and they created a second home in Chatham, Cape Cod, where they gathered their family for years of fun and countless memories. Having acquired his “sea legs” while in the Navy, Ernie loved time on his boat ‘SugarBabe’ during their years at the Cape. Ernie enjoyed many lifelong friendships, including decades with the Friday Night Group, and he was constantly bumping into someone he knew, everywhere he went. In his later years, Ernie took great pleasure in the simple things—his home, beautiful music, rides around town, and most importantly, being surrounded by the family he adored and who relished every moment they had with him.
Ernie’s memory will be cherished by his family: his two daughters Ann Linnea P. Gilmour and partner Judy Gleason of Lambertville, NJ, and Martha P. and husband Jay Swanson of Portland, CT. He also leaves his grandchildren and great-grandchildren—Thomas Gilmour IV (wife Courtney, daughter Janelle, son Elijah) of Easton, PA, Amy Linnea Gilmour (fiancee Jim Schubert, baby girl on the way) of Jackson, NJ, Daniel Peterson Gilmour (wife Bevin, daughters Clara and Zelda) of Roswell, GA, Dr. Christopher Swanson (wife Margaret, son Tucker Frederick) of Atlantic Beach, FL, Ingrid Swanson Moss (husband William, son Callum, daughters Emelia and Isla) of Portland, CT, Raymond Peterson (daughter Mya) of Portland, CT, and Lauren Peterson Kerr (husband Shawn, daughter Madeline) of Walpole, MA—as well as several cherished nieces and nephews. Ernie was predeceased by his wife Phyllis, his son William Raymond Peterson, his brothers W. Arthur and J. Paul Peterson, and two sisters-in-law, Pearle J. and Sherrill P. Peterson. Ernie and his family are grateful for the compassionate care he received from Dr. Robert Levy and Hannah, as well as the loving support provided by his caregivers Linda, Gosia, Susan and Maria.
A private graveside service will be held at the Swedish Cemetery. A celebration of Ernie’s life will be planned in the future when circumstances permit. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Zion Lutheran Church Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 202, Portland, CT 06480. Messages of condolences may be sent to the family at www.doolittlefuneralservice.com.
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