After devoting 42 years of his life to the University of King’s College and its library, Drake Petersen passed away Oct. 17. A memorial service in his honour was held Nov. 3 at 2:00 p.m. in the King’s chapel, followed by a reception in the library.
In his early days at King’s, Petersen was the don of Middle Bay, a campus residence. He was hired as a cataloguer for the King’s library, a position he held for twenty years. He was also a Classics student and, in 1990, he earned his MA in Greek Literature. He is remembered today as the library’s archivist and librarian.
Nicholas Hatt, the dean of residence, wrote in an email, “Above all, I shall always remember Drake for his kindness.” During Hatt’s first year as dean, he had difficulty finding a quiet place to work. “Drake let me work in the library’s committee room – perhaps one of the loveliest rooms on campus – and we would often chat throughout the evening, sometimes until long after the library had closed!”
Hatt didn’t realize until a few years later that Drake had mentored him through his first year as Dean. “I shall always be profoundly grateful for the way in which he reached out to me.”
Almost twenty years ago, Petersen took over the position of librarian from Wayne Hankey, who is now the chair of the Dalhousie University Classics department and a professor at Dal and King’s.
There was nothing Petersen couldn’t solve “ingeniously” and “inexpensively,” says Hankey. Petersen worked under the constraints of a limited budget and limited space. And, Hankey says, Petersen was good at training his staff and student assistants.
Dani Pacey, a recent King’s graduate who worked at the library for three years, says Petersen cared for his staff. He would frequently leave a bag of fruit in the fridge and say, “Eat this fruit,” says Pacey. “I guess he was just making sure that we were all being taken care of properly, which is really sweet.”
“Drake believed fiercely in truth and beauty, and was immensely practical. The care and attention he gave to the library, and the endowment he established, are mere examples of his stewardship. “
– Nicholas Hatt, Dean of Residence
Pacey has fond memories of sitting with Petersen in his office and going through books he was considering for the library’s collection. She remembers his office with its “great window looking out onto the quad,” old wooden chairs, and a cabinet stuffed with “random” things that she found endearing. She says he would sometimes ask, “Wait a second, why are we ordering this book?” He would give her his opinion on various authors, and “he always had something to say.”
She remembers him as quiet, and a little bit mysterious. She doesn’t think she ever “knew him, knew him,” and she wishes she had had the chance.
Petersen was a private individual, and, as Hankey describes him, “a fundamentally contemplative soul.”
He says Petersen “had a personality. He was independent … He was an intellectual. He believed in books. He devoted himself to an institution his whole life. He made (the library) a place of contemplation.”
When people come into the library, “they love it, they love to be there, and they look after it. Drake fostered that spirit and cared for it,” says Hankey. “It really is a wonderful, wonderful place for King’s students and for anybody who comes into it. And he’s so important for preserving that.”
“He knew how important the library was in upholding that old way of learning. That he should work so hard to maintain this for us is perhaps the greatest gift he has left to all (of) us.”