Peterson, longtime professor of anatomy, 86

Roy R. Peterson, PhD, who taught anatomy to thousands of Washington University School of Medicine students over four decades, died Friday, July 2, 2010, of a brief illness from cancer. He was 86.

Peterson, professor emeritus of anatomy, was known as a devoted, kind and supportive teacher and mentor to first-year medical students in their first anatomy course. He joined the School of Medicine in 1952 as an anatomy instructor and taught in the department until his retirement in 1988. He was named an Alumni Teaching Scholar and awarded Teacher of the Year from the senior class in 1973, 1976, 1980 and 1985. He became director of the division of gross anatomy in 1974.


After Peterson retired from teaching in 1988, a group of students, faculty, alumnae and friends wanted to honor his service in a way that would reflect both his longstanding commitment to first-year medical students and to the anatomy course he taught and loved for so many years. The Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology now gives an award in Peterson’s honor annually to a first-year medical student for outstanding achievement in the Human Anatomy course.

A native of Kansas City, Mo., Peterson studied at Kansas City Junior College prior to serving nearly three years in the U.S. Army during World War II.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1948 and a doctorate in 1952 from the University of Kansas, where he also served as an assistant instructor in zoology, a research assistant and a research fellow. He studied at The Anatomy School at Cambridge University in England and was a U.S. Public Health Service Special Research Fellow in Anatomy in 1960.

Peterson is survived by his wife, Dixie, of Kirkwood, Mo.; his children, sons Paul Peterson of Cocoa, Fla., and Richard Peterson of High Ridge, Mo., and daughters Karen Peterson of San Mateo, Calif., and Susan Hawkins of Kirkwood, Mo.; seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service for Peterson will be held at 3 p.m. Aug. 14 at Bethel United Methodist Church, 17500 Manchester Road, Wildwood, Mo.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Washington University School of Medicine (memo: Roy R. Peterson Prize Fund) and mailed to Washington University School of Medicine, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, 660 S. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, MO 63110.