Jan Eric Peterson

April 28, 1944August 14, 2022
Obituary of Jan Eric Peterson
Jan Eric Peterson, widely acknowledged as a champion of justice, died peacefully at home on August 14, 2022. He was 78. Jan dedicated his career to advocating for the disadvantaged with empathy, fairness, and professionalism. He was known for his larger-than-life personality, generosity, and willingness to help and support his colleagues, friends, and family. He had numerous passions and accomplishments outside of the legal profession and lived life fully. Friends and colleagues remember him as “an amazing lawyer,” “a legend,” “a true giant,” “stalwart,” “one of the great ones,” and a true “Renaissance man.” Born April 28, 1944, to Dorothy and Theodore “Pete” Peterson in Seattle, Washington, Jan enjoyed his youth in Pasco, Washington with his younger sister Jana and his best friend and future law partner Brian Putra. He served as student body president of Pasco High School and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2003. With his undergraduate degree from Stanford University, Jan followed his father’s footsteps into law and attended the University of Washington Law School where he received a Juris Doctor in 1969. Jan began his law career as staff counsel for the ACLU of Washington State and OEO Legal Services before entering private practice in 1972. Jan was always proud of his work for the ACLU including his successful effort in Struck v. Secretary of Defense (1971), an equal protection challenge to an Air Force regulation that required pregnant women officers be discharged from service. The government ultimately changed its policy. Jan was a partner of the law firm Peterson Wampold Rosato Feldman Luna which he co-founded in 1973. There, he achieved record-breaking verdicts for his clients. In recognition, he received the 1999 Trial Lawyer of the Year award and was listed in Best Lawyers in America. Jan’s advocacy went beyond the courtroom. He was twice featured on 60-Minutes and spoke about what became a game-changing case against the home swimming pool industry for repeatedly and knowingly issuing unsafe pool standards that resulted in his client’s catastrophic injuries. Reacting to Andy Rooney’s criticism of large personal injury verdicts -Jan was quoted: “Hogwash! The right to settle our disputes by jury trial is the American way.” Jan viewed the legal community as an extended family and treated colleagues accordingly. Many lawyers have expressed gratitude for his unconditional mentorship, inspiration, and guidance. Recognized as an expert in his field, a close colleague recalled, he was “always humble and always seeking to improve.” Jan was a popular seminar presenter at conferences and guest lecturer at the University of Washington Law School. Throughout his career, he invested time and effort to improving the legal profession and ensuring that it earn the trust and faith of the public. To that end, he served as president of the Washington State Bar (WSBA), the Washington State Association for Justice and the Damage Attorneys Round Table of Washington. He was also a past board member of the Legal Foundation of Washington, Board of Judicial Administration, and a member of the Supreme Court’s Joint Task Force on Attorney Discipline. As Washington State Bar president, Jan’s mantra of “Proud to be a Lawyer” united lawyers on both the plaintiff and defense sides. He took his popular, uplifting message across the state encouraging all lawyers to be “stewards of justice” and it became a campaign of pride and joy. As dedicated as Jan was to his profession, he was equally devoted to his passions and having fun. Jan’s warmth, intelligence, and sense of humor made his company and friendship irresistible - a wonderful person to be around. He and his law partners enjoyed and respected one another. They formed long-lived relationships as their families grew and they grew older. Their holiday parties were legendary – a diverse gathering of family, friends, clients, and colleagues enjoying delicious food and drink and having a rollicking good time! He was a true partner and friend to his wife of 38 years, Margy Peterson, whom he revered. He was a loving and supporting father to his son Nels, his daughter, attorney Anne Peterson, and stepsons Derren and Corrin Haskell, whom he loved as his own, and a proud grandfather to Ocian, all of whom he encouraged in their endeavors until the day he died. Having fun was important to Jan. He relished gatherings he and Margy hosted at their Montlake home during summer months on the shady deck and during holidays with live music before a blazing fireplace. The Peterson’s New Year’s Day Open House kicked off the new year with laughter and good cheer. Independent of his well-known yen for ice cream, Jan was a true gourmand and enjoyed time with family and friends over meals, great conversation and a good bottle of wine. Friends loved cooking for him as he was an enthusiastic eater and a proud member of the “clean plate club.” Jan enjoyed his favorite activities with lifelong friends. These included his Friday poker pals of 35 plus years, Mariner season ticketholders for 45 years, his Pasco high school buddies and his long list of lovers-of-golf with whom he shared his passion on multiple courses. Being an ardent music fan and an accomplished jazz pianist, he loved attending performances in the vibrant Seattle jazz scene. He was a supporter of KNKX radio, two jazz societies in Florida and the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra. He surrounded himself with good books and music of all genres. With his encouragement, his children developed these passions as well – a wonderful legacy. Jan was a sports fanatic, particularly baseball. He enjoyed his beloved San Francisco Giants and attending Mariners games. After recently attending a game, he said “they finally appear to have a chance to go all the way this season.” A weekend athlete, Jan enjoyed pick-up basketball games and instilled a love for basketball in both stepsons, Corrin and Derren – watching and playing the game with them over the years. However, he never forgave the Sonics for leaving Seattle. He played softball with a rag tag team dressed in what can only be described as “’80’s BBQ chic.” The team sponsored by the Mercer Island Roanoke Inn, usually won despite being the “old guys” in the league. However, golf was the true passion for Jan – one of the few things he was willing to rise for at 5:30 am. Having watched the Masters every year, he was beyond happy when good friends invited him to attend the Tournament with them. At his last and final round this past spring in Florida, he made a par on the 18th hole. Jan’s love of travel started in his early years with adventures with his parents and continued with his first wife Jeanne Peterson, mother of Nels and Anne, spending a year living and traveling in Europe among other forays. Margy and Jan often traveled with other couples and groups of friends and attorneys. They enjoyed all their new adventures and special returns to Italy, France and Ireland. With an aptitude for storytelling, he could turn a traveling mishap into a hilarious narration. Parkinson’s Disease began to limit his ability to do all the things he loved, but he never lost his joie de vivre, his ability to find and share humor, or his desire to help others. He was truly one of a kind and will be missed dearly. A celebration of life is being planned for the month of October.

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