Michael Peterson struggled to reach adulthood, but once he did, everything seemed to come together. He survived a near-fatal case of aplastic anemia at age 9, and by the age of 23, he’d found his niche in life, providing film sound services in a partnership with his brothers. He put heart and soul into his newfound passion, yet remained as close as ever with longtime friends.
Peterson died last Saturday from injuries sustained while in the passenger seat of a car that skidded off Horseshoe Lane and hit two trees.
“He was a happy, happy guy with a great smile,” said Bob Peterson, Michael’s father.
“HE HAD no enemies,” said Chris Brinkman, a Whitman graduate who had known Peterson for more than four years. “He was everyone’s best friend.”
"Mike had one of the most contagious smiles of anybody I know," said Elizabeth Averitt, who knew Peterson from the beginning of high school. "Your friends automatically became his friends."
Sam Schor described how Michael was immune to the grudges and vendettas that most people hold from time to time. "He could get along with everybody," Schor said. "He brought people together. º He was only happy when everyone else was happy."
Pedro Mayorga, a University of Maryland senior, had known Peterson since middle school, but it was during his college years that they became especially close. They’d go snowboarding, or to music festivals or funk and jam-band concerts.
MICHAEL WAS DIAGNOSED at age 9 with aplastic anemia, a group of medical disorders in which the bone marrow stops producing enough new blood cells. "He fought a very long battle and won," Bob Peterson said. "It was a very big community effort." Family and friends, including classmates from Carderock Springs Elementary School, started Friends of Michael Peterson to help with the exorbitant medical bills. His brother Tommy Peterson provided matching bone marrow for a transplant, and after a year-and-a-half battle, Michael survived and returned to good health.
Peterson originally attended Walt Whitman High School, but later transferred to the G.W. Community School in Springfield, Va. "There were a lot of people who set the stage for him," said his father Bob Peterson.
After high school, Michael enrolled in Full Sail, an entertainment business college in Orlando, Fla. He returned and started work as a soundman with Peterson Video Film, the family's production company that services such clients as Discovery Channel, National Geographic and CBS News. Audio is often an under-appreciated component of television and film production. "It's tough to get good sound sometimes," Bob Peterson said.
“He really got it together in life,” Brinkman said. “He was on the right track, traveling around the world.”
As a freelance soundman, Peterson worked on a wide range of assignments in just two years, and worked on productions like reenactments for "America's Most Wanted" and features on whales in the Baja, sea turtles, mega-ships in Amsterdam, aircraft carriers. Averitt said that he brought something back from each place he went. An assignment in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina made an especially strong impression on him.
"He was crying when he was down there," Schor said. When Peterson returned from the assignment, he described how overwhelming the damage was. "He just said … 'You just feel like you don't even matter.'"
But Peterson's work mattered to him. He had a gift for it, and the warmth of his personality suited him for the job he did. "He was so good at his job because it involved working with a lot of new people, and meeting a lot of new people all the time," Averitt said.
While Bob Peterson was at a news conference last week, a cameraman came up to him and said he'd just finished working with Mike, and wanted to tell Bob what a pleasure he was to work with.
"He went straight into the workforce," Mayorga said. "He was doing the best of all of us." This furthered Peterson's generosity; he'd pay for many of his friends when they went out, and never asked for anything back, Mayorga said.
By mid-afternoon on the day Mike died, his friends had built a memorial to him at the corner of Brickyard Road and Horseshoe Lane. Averitt was there on Saturday, and has already been back a few times.
"I loved the kid," Averitt said. "I'm blessed that I got to be friends with him."
Michael is survived by his parents, Bob and Michele Peterson, and his brothers Robert, James and Tommy Peterson.
THERE WILL BE a viewing and visitation from 3-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. this Saturday, Aug. 5, at Pumphrey Funeral Home at 7557 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda. The family will hold a “Celebration of Michael Peterson's Life” at 11 a.m. on Sept. 16, 2006 at the Potomac United Methodist Church, 10300 Falls Road, Potomac. There will be a short service and then in a Hall next door there will be a memorial video, food and testimonies to share in the celebration of Mike Peterson.