After I first met Ralph Peterson, I was scared. He was principal of Lemoore High School, and I was editor of an upstart newspaper on campus.
The first big story I uncovered was his decision to ban the fantasy game “Dungeons and Dragons” and the club that met to indulge in it.
It was around 1983, long before communication was unfettered, long before texting and smartphones and the Internet. The decision was passed by voice from student to student; a newspaper story was essential.
So I wrote a report about what I perceived as a questionable use of authority. Somehow Peterson got wind of it, and then I was summoned to his office. He was concerned because I also was an intern at The Lemoore Leader, a public newspaper.
The clock was ticking on the start time for both editions, yet he asked me for a copy of my story.
Not knowing what to do, and admittedly against journalist principles, I showed the principal the text, sitting across his big conference table when in his office, in those days, corporal punishments known as “swats,” still were in fashion. The paddle was visible on the wall.
Silence. And just a touch of sweat.
He read the story, in which I did my best to be objective but also provocative by quoting upset students and a few concerned educators.
His comment to me was simple:
“It is fair.”
At that moment, he defined leadership to me. To this day, I doubt he liked it, but he accepted the exchange of knowledge and opinion as vital to education. Every moment counts.
Peterson, who died March 9 at the age of 92, could have shut my student newspaper down. He could have done many other things. Instead, he inspired me always to pursue what I believe is just.
The story ran on the front page of The Tiger Tribune and The Lemoore Leader.
Peterson was a longtime community leader, an outstanding president of the Lemoore Rotary Club, and an unexpected volunteer on so many occasions. I express my sympathy to his entire family, including Ruth Peterson.
Small towns sometimes attract small minds. Not in this case.
After high school, I went on to pursue a career in journalism, working from coast to coast. And I always attempt to equal his grace: the constant obligation to consider opinions and comments and actions with which one may not agree, but must be absorbed.
Lemoore has lost two great educators this year. A gifted, jovial and skillful science teacher, Gary Sedgwick, shall be remembered for his devotion to education.
Mr. Peterson and Mr. Sedgwick taught me many things, including inquiry, pursuit, and compassion. (But I got a C-plus from Sedgwick) Their work was noble, and the lives they touched are countless.
Now a Rotarian myself, I last greeted Mr. and Mrs. Peterson at our annual fund-raiser, a crab dinner last November. He had a great meal.
Both of these gentlemen get a A-pluses from me.