The Blog to Transform Advanced Care

Advancing Care through Innovation, Observation and Collaboration.

Remembering Pete Peterson

The first time I sat down with Pete Peterson, he was mad at me. Or more accurately, mad at AARP, with me as a handy target. It was October, 2003, I was into my second year as CEO of AARP, and Pete and I were doing a breakfast panel at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

His anger was over what he perceived as AARP’s intransigence concerning the Balanced Budget Amendment back in 1997 (before I arrived). I had my talking points in my pocket (“the aging of the world’s population presents challenges, but opportunities as well,” etc.), but left them there to respond to Pete about fairness in spending across generations and the importance of fiscal responsibility.

At the end of the breakfast, Pete surprised me by leaning into the microphone and saying, “This is a reasonable man.” We became friendly and I admired him ever since.

When Pete passed away last week, it brought back the New York breakfast encounter, and other memories as well.

He and David Walker, former Comptroller General of the U.S. produced a documentary, “I.O.U.S.A.,” about the threat of runaway deficits and debt. They premiered it in Omaha and invited several people, including me, to participate in the panel discussion after the film was shown.

But first, Pete held a press conference with David, himself, and Warren Buffet, who appeared in the film to talk about his debt and deficit concerns.

I think Pete was mightily surprised when Buffet indicated near indifference in his press conference remarks about the threat of going over the fiscal cliff. “We’ll grow our way out of it,” Buffet claimed. Pete didn’t believe that for a minute. That was back in 2008, and it’s still the argument of today. Will the economy respond to the new tax cut, and will we grow our way out of fiscal disaster? Pete never bought it, and neither do I.

When I left AARP, I decided to start a national program to reform advanced illness and end-of-life care in the U.S. – a huge problem in need of change.

I went to Pete. My argument was that we can’t solve our debt problem until we get health care spending under control, and we can’t do that without controlling end-of-life care spending. Pete saw the logic in that and gave us a start-up grant that got us off the ground.

Since then, he and Michael Peterson, now the president of their Foundation, provided additional grants to enable my partner, Tom Koutsoumpas and me to form the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC), to go national and gain real momentum. Pete was our catalyst. He believed in us and our mission, and he saw the importance of transforming advanced illness care. He realized that giving people what they want led to better quality and lower costs.

Pete’s wife, Joan Ganz Cooney, one of the founders of Sesame Street, also had a major influence on me. When she started Sesame Street on public television, I was an account supervisor at a New York ad agency searching for social relevance in my work. The agency assigned me to a new account – public television, the first time they retained an ad agency to build viewership.

One of my first tasks was to attend a press conference conducted by Joan. I was fascinated by this new approach to learning. Joan was an educator, yes, but also a marketer. So was I. The thought struck me that marketing tools and practices could be applied to ideas, issues and causes just as effectively as they could to the laundry detergents, tooth paste and pet foods that I had been promoting. This led me to a career change, to social marketing and social impact, where I am today.

Last November I went to New York, because I had heard that Pete was ailing, and I wanted to thank him, possibly for the last time. Michael was there, and the three of us had a nice chat.

I’ll say now what I endeavored to say then: Thanks, Pete, for your support for C-TAC, and thanks for being a real American patriot, dedicated to raising public awareness of our long-term fiscal challenges and finding solutions to ensure a better economic future for our country.




Bill Novelli


Coalition to Transform Advanced Care


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1 Comment

  1. Claudia STROUD on April 5, 2018 at 2:11 am

    Simply Amazing.

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