Inventor’s gift stems from lifelong interest in science
Thomas F. Peterson, Jr. has been interested in science and inventing ever since he was a young boy. He is most at home in a laboratory setting, particularly his own home lab, with its collection of antique scientific instruments. These include a glass fluorescent tube from the 19th century that reads “God Save Queen Victoria” and an authentic Brush arc light similar to those that first lit Cleveland’s Public Square in 1879. He also is proud of his collection of nearly 4,000 books, many about the Earth’s magnetic and electric fields. This particular passion generated several patents, including one for an instrument that measures the electrical charge of seawater.
Thomas F. Peterson, Jr.
Mr. Peterson’s lifelong interest in scientific research and innovation has led to his recent $5 million gift creating the Thomas F. Peterson, Jr. Center for Heart-Brain Research, a part of Cleveland Clinic’s Earl and Doris Bakken Heart-Brain Institute. The center, run by Marc Penn, MD, PhD, Director of the Heart-Brain Institute, implements, funds and manages the institute’s research program on cardiovascular and nervous system disorders.
Mr. Peterson’s gift also is motivated in large part by personal experiences. His mother had Alzheimer’s disease, his wife had multiple sclerosis and one of his children suffers from schizophrenia. His wife, Jessie, passed away from colon cancer that went undetected largely because nerve damage from MS masked her symptoms.
“I realized that I might be able to do something about mental and neurological illnesses by supporting research,” says Mr. Peterson, who was himself a patient at Cleveland Clinic. “Cleveland Clinic saved my life twice, once with five-way heart bypass surgery in 1996 and again in September 2008, with laparoscopic colon cancer surgery. Following my recent surgery, I received a clean bill of health.”
Mr. Peterson’s interest in science and technology began in his childhood when he played at the workbench where his father, founder of Preformed Line Products Co., designed and built models of his own inventions. The younger Peterson earned his first patent at the age of 9 for a perpetual calendar he fashioned with materials including a flashlight battery and a cardboard tube.
A Cleveland resident, Mr. Peterson donated a two-photon microscope to the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which he attended. He is a member of MIT’s Corporation Development Committee and its Leadership Council at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and he is establishing collaborative research between MIT and Cleveland Clinic. He created an endowment to fund the Thomas F. Peterson Jr. Conservator position in the MIT Libraries, and he serves the Bakken Library and Museum of Electricity in Life in Minneapolis as a trustee and member of its library and finance committees.
His friendship with Earl Bakken, a founder of Medtronics and developer of the first wearable artificial pacemaker, reinforced his interest in heart-brain research.
“Earl called me at the house, delighted,” Mr. Peterson recalls. “He said there have been two great events in the past year. One was a celebration held in his honor at the renovated movie theater where, as a boy, he had seen the original Frankenstein movie, which motivated him to use electricity to save lives. The second was when he heard about my gift.”
This story originally appeared in Cleveland Clinic Magazine, Summer 2009.
To make a gift supporting the Earl and Doris Bakken Heart-Brain Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit iSupport, our secure online giving site, or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.