December 7, 2012

Feature obituary: Lillian Peterson, 94, single mom, dedicated life to helping others

President George W. Bush once compared his mother to Ms. Peterson and her love of volunteerism.

By Melanie Creamer
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Lillian Peterson, a loving mother and longtime volunteer for the Salvation Army who dedicated her life to helping others, died Monday. She was 94.

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Then-President George W. Bush presents a gift of recognition to Lillian Peterson for her tireless dedication to the Salvation Army at a luncheon on March 23, 2001. Ms. Peterson has died at the age of 94.

Family photo


Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's family and friends in lasting ways.

Ms. Peterson was remembered Thursday as a single mother of four who worked hard and sacrificed to provide a good life for her family.

She was a longtime supporter of the Salvation Army in Portland and volunteered at its senior center from 1984 to 2006.

She performed numerous jobs for the Salvation Army, such as calling elderly members who needed support, bagging food for the needy and preparing bulk mailings for residents in the Portland area.

On March 23, 2001, Ms. Peterson was recognized for her dedication at a Salvation Army luncheon featuring then-President George W. Bush and Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. At the event, Bush remarked that his mother, Barbara Bush, resembled Ms. Peterson.

"She loved being a volunteer," said her son, Kenneth Peterson of Scarborough. "She loved helping people. She always had a big heart. She was always trying to make this place a better one for people."

Ms. Peterson grew up in Portland and attended local schools. She left school after eighth grade and started working to help her family pay the bills. At age 14, she became a waitress at The Puritan Tea Room in downtown Portland and other restaurants in Portland.

Later, she worked at The Eastland Hotel as a maitre d' and manager of the banquet facility. A highlight of her career was working as a consultant for the opening of the former Holiday Inn Portland West on Riverside Street.

Kenneth Peterson remembered talking to his mother about getting a job during his senior year of high school to help pay bills. But that would have prevented him from playing football. His mother put her foot down and insisted that he play.

"Her children came first," he said. "She was a wonderful, hard-working mother who made many sacrifices for her children. I couldn't have asked for a better mother."

At times, she worked two jobs. Her other son, James Peterson of Portland, said she was always there for her children and their friends.

"She was a great mom," James Peterson said. "The older I get, the more I realize how hard she worked to give us what she did. She did quite a job with us."

In her later years, Ms. Peterson returned to her roots in the hospitality industry and ran the food and banquet service at the Allen "A" Resort in Wolfeboro, N.H. She enjoyed bringing her grandchildren there, her sons said.

Ms. Peterson didn't make a lot of time for hobbies. Instead, she developed a strong faith and a firm commitment to help people in need.

James Peterson said his mother always carried her Bible.

"I can't ever remember her knitting or loving to cook. Her hobby was her spirituality," he said. "She sat down and read the Bible like someone would sit down and do crossword puzzles. She wasn't about the talk. She lived it." 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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