Milton V. Peterson
Milton V. Peterson
Milton V. Peterson, founder and chairman of Peterson Companies, visionary real estate developer, devoted family man and philanthropist passed away peacefully at home early May 26th surrounded by family.
A native of Worcester, Massachusetts, Milt was an ROTC graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont with a B.A. in Economics. Together for 70 years and married for 64 years, Milt along with his wife Carolyn were the first couple to be married while students at the college. Upon graduation in 1958, Milt served as a lieutenant with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He saw great opportunity in the nation's capital – the capital of the world as he viewed it, so he made his home in Fairfax County, Virginia, where he has lived with his family for more than 60 years.
After spending several years with the Yeonas Companies, a regional home builder, in 1965 Milt ventured out on his own with a dream to build communities in which people could live, work, shop and play in a safe and comprehensively-planned environment. Like many entrepreneurs from humble beginnings, he could not have imagined that over the course of the next 50 years, his company would become one of the largest privately-held real estate development companies in the Washington, DC region with a reputation based on his traits of integrity, vision and trust. Milt loved to explore and take inspiration from his travels. His passion for great design, beautiful landscaping and the highest-quality materials is evident throughout all of the Company's developments. Milt had a maverick quality and enjoyed the freedom and flexibility that came with leading a privately-owned company. Milt would not accept no for an answer if he believed in something. This often enabled the company to take on projects that other developers simply could not and under Milt's leadership, Peterson Cos developed some of the most successful and award-winning mixed-use retail, residential and office developments in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland.
During the 1970s, Milt partnered with Til Hazel to form Hazel/Peterson Companies and together they developed several master-planned communities including Burke Centre, Franklin Farm and Centre Ridge along with the Tysons-Mclean Office Park which was literally built on a handshake deal between Milt and Jim Clark of Clark Construction. Next came Fair Lakes, which required the construction of the first interchange of the Fairfax County Parkway and Route 66 and is widely credited for transforming Fairfax County from a bedroom community to a serious center of business activity and commerce.
In the 1990s, Milt turned his attention to Maryland and decided to take on a gutsy urban renewal project in partnership with Montgomery County and Foulger-Pratt. Together, they transformed several deteriorated blocks into Downtown Silver Spring, a vibrant shopping, dining and entertainment destination for the greater Silver Spring community. He also partnered with Jim and Ted Pedas of Circle Management to develop Rio Washingtonian into a thriving entertainment anchored mixed-use development in Gaithersburg, MD.
The success of those projects gave Milt the confidence to take on perhaps his most ambitious project - National Harbor. Milt always said properties are like people – they have personalities – and he knew this waterfront property with over a mile of frontage on the Potomac River just minutes from Washington, DC was destined for greatness. Several hard-working developers had attempted to develop it, but were stymied by many of the complex obstacles. Not Milt. He modeled American Way after Las Ramblas in Barcelona and the Spanish Steps in Rome. The idea for the Capital Wheel came from a trip to Paris' famed Place de la Concorde. He incorporated his favorite rocks from Maine and was so hands-on, you could often find him operating a bulldozer, to the dismay of many contractors. He handpicked MGM to open a world-class resort and led an historic referendum effort to make it happen. Today, National Harbor welcomes over 28 million visitors annually from around the world and is home to Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino, Tanger Outlets, The Capital Wheel, 80+ shops and restaurants, offices, hotels and 2,000+ residents.
In addition to the company's extensive real estate holdings, Milt's pioneering spirit led him to a variety of business ventures ranging from a shrimp farm in Belize to innovative bio-tech companies - Vizuri Health Sciences Consumer Healthcare, Propella Therapueutics and Koios Medical.
Milt considered responsible land use to be a core value. In partnership, the Company has been a pioneer in the areas of wetlands mitigation (nearly 1,000 acres), stream restoration (over 12 miles of streams), solar power and LEED certification.
Though Milt was loath to be "unhumble", that didn't stop local and national industry organizations from recognizing Milt and Peterson Companies with numerous awards including: NAIOP's Developer of the Year; The Distinguished Design Award; The Most Outstanding Project Conservation Award; The Pillars of the Industry Award and a host of others in the areas of planning, custom design, conservation, development and marketing. In 1995 he was recognized as the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce's Man of the Year. The Urban Land Institute honored Milt in 2003 with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to the real estate industry and in 2006 he received the Trendsetter of the Year Award at the TrendLines Washington Event. He was inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame in 2009, and was honored as a top Family-Owned Business in 2016 by the Washington Business Journal.
One of the core values that guided Milt throughout his life and that he instilled in his family is the importance of giving back. Over the years he has served on the Board of Directors of numerous financial, community, business and educational organizations. He served over sixteen years under four Virginia governors on the Governor's Economic Advisory Board. He also chaired and served eight years on the Fairfax Economic Development Authority. Milt was Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Middlebury College for five years and served on the Board for twenty-four years. During this time, he was instrumental in donating and raising significant funds for revitalization of the staff and campus, including new athletic and science facilities. He was an Emeritus Member of the Board of Trustees.
In 1997, Milt and Carolyn Peterson, established the Peterson Family Foundation out of a fundamental belief that to truly be successful, they must be fair, honest and support the communities in which they live and do business. Through their generosity and commitment to giving back, they have invested more than $100 million in charitable causes and helped to raise millions more for schools, health systems, social services and faith-oriented organizations.
The Foundation became a principal partner of Northern Virginia Family Service, supported Youth for Tomorrow in Prince William County and in Prince George's County, Teach for America and Venture Philanthropy Partners - Ready To Work initiative. In anticipation of surging hunger and homelessness during the winter months of the COVID pandemic, a significant fund was created and distributed around the Washington, DC metro area.
Supporting INOVA Health System has been a key focus for Milt. He was a driving force behind INOVA's purchase of the Exxon Mobil site in Fairfax, now home to the INOVA Schar Cancer Institute. He was the first major donor committing $10 million to create the internationally renowned center for personalized health. Milt and Carolyn opened their home for 20 years to host INOVA's Life With Cancer signature event Lobster Extravaganza which has raised over $18 million.
Milt and Carolyn's giving spirit and strength of faith is evidenced by their deep historical involvement with the United Methodist Church. As Milt began to develop large residential communities, he would reserve and dedicate a prominent site for a new Methodist Church. He also led a fundraising drive for the Virginia Conference which raised in excess of $20 million, enabling the building of dozens of new churches throughout the state.
In 2008, Milt and Carolyn each received the Mason Medal in recognition of their service to the community and support of George Mason University. They were also supporters of Middlebury College, Flint Hill School and St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School.
Milt and the family's philanthropic efforts also reached outside of the DC region, where contributions to the hospital, fire station, library and Ogunquit Playhouse, have helped make York Harbor one of the most sought-after communities in which to live and work in Maine. In the Dominican Republic, the family built and financially supports the 1000-seat Iglesia A.M.E. Impacto De Vida that offers before and after school meals for 250 local children each day and houses a locally accredited grade school and in La Romana, an 84-bed dormitory at Amigos del Orfanato, a home for orphaned young girls.
Milt was as dedicated to his family as to his career and he was devoted to his children, all of whom have worked for the Peterson Cos. In 2018, his son Jon became CEO of the real estate company and his son Rick took over all the non-real estate holdings. You could often find Milt, Carolyn and his other family members on the sidelines of athletic fields cheering on his grandchildren. The family homes in Fairfax, Virginia, York Harbor, Maine and in the Dominican Republic were always full of family members enjoying each other's company with Milt usually at the center of every sporting competition, especially pickleball.
Milt was predeceased by his parents Eric and Ethel and brother Billy. Milt will be lovingly remembered by his high school sweetheart and wife of 64 years, Carolyn (née Skyllberg), his children, Lauren, Rick (Phoebe), Jon (Anne) and Steven (Martha) and his sister Sally. Milt will also be fondly remembered by his grandchildren Jillian, Chris, Megan, Cara, Tim, Steven, Nick, Luke, Tommy and Rita and three great-grandchildren Railey, Everett and Ella. Milt will also be forever remembered by extended family, dear friends, business partners and colleagues, and the hundreds of employees whose lives he touched.
A private memorial service will be held on June 9th and a weblink will be made available on the Peterson Cos website that morning for anyone who wishes to view the service. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to INOVA Life With Cancer or the charity of one's choice. If you would like to share a memory of Milt with the family, please email [email protected]
Published by from May 28 to Jun. 4, 2021.
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4 Entries
With the hearts of my family, Jack, Pacho and me Moca, we extend our big condolences to Carolyne and her family on the loss of a very great man and a great friend. We are very sad because we lost a friend.
Maria Clara Bermudez (Moca)
July 8, 2021
Milt Peterson was my friend, my client and I considered him one of the most admirable men I ever met. I had the pleasure of knowing Arnold Palmer for many years as a frequent visitor to his golf course and a member of one of the golf courses he designed. Milt was the closest person I ever met to Mr. Palmer. His ability to make everyone special was a quality few people have. In my more than 40 years working and playing with Milt and his family I never once saw him angry or even irritated with anyone. It was a pleasure to visit with him.
The two things I attribute to Milt and his success were: first, that he always sought out the best people for his company. He had no budget for talent and always rewarded performance. And, second he was never afraid to hear the truth from anyone. As his friend and his recruiter he always wanted me to tell it like it was. Reality was what he wanted to hear and discuss. These traits along with his love of his family and the way he treated all people made him great and led to the accomplishments he achieved. I never had any hesitancy to tell candidates for the Peterson Companies that they were interviewing with the best place to work I've ever worked with. An amazing man has left us for now. We will all miss him, his work, his generosity and his smile.
William McCormick
June 14, 2021
It was just two years ago that a neighbor called and said Milt needs a fourth for pickleball at his private court. Soon, Milt, who didn’t know me from Adam, welcomed me to his place with open arms.

The next day they needed another player so Hannah came along. Taken with Hannah’s spunk and power, Milt had us back again and again. To his credit, Milt in his 80s wanted to learn the game not just whack the ball as hard as he could. Still quite the athlete (Milt was once a scratch golfer), he worked on his soft game and his serve.

You see, Milt and his wife Carolyn live in northern Virginia. Each summer around Memorial Day they come to their place in Maine, which happens to be just five miles from our home in York.

To welcome them back this first Friday in June, I dial Milt’s number. No answer. No surprise as Milt has been working remotely ever since the pandemic grabbed the country and world by the throat. I try Carolyn’s number and she also does not pick up. Still not out of the ordinary. Carolyn has a full life here in Maine, too.

I then text their son Rick, to see if they are even in Maine. In minutes, Rick replies, Hi Dan, Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Milt passed away last week. Family in mourning. Let’s chat about playing pickleball sometime after the 10th of July or so. Thanks and give my best to Hannah.

Stunned does not do justice to this news. Disbelieving! Incredulous! I could empty the thesaurus describing how much I was blown away. When Hannah and I saw Milt this past September on the pickleball court, he looked great, full of pep, and talkative.

Many was the time that Carolyn came to watch us all play. From her courtside vantage point, she kept score, complemented good shots, and sassily commented on what Milt should have done better. In time, Carolyn learned that Hannah cut hair in people’s homes. Hannah soon became their barber and hair stylist.

Milt always said, Come and play anytime you want, and we did. And despite his many business interests, Milt was often able to get away for an hour to play with us. Upbeat, complementary to others, and sometimes tough on himself, he was always a joy to be around.

The last time we saw him, we parked just twenty feet from his driveway so we wouldn’t block any cars coming and going. He gently admonished me, What are you doing parking on the side road. You’re friends of mine, park up front by the house. And so we did.

Rest in peace, my friend. Click here for the obituary of this amazing, generous man.
Dan Rothermel
June 6, 2021
Denise and Richard Rubin send warm and sincere condolences to the family Peterson.
Denise and Richard Rubin
June 5, 2021
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