Pete Jefferson

Pete was not a regular in our crowd but was around enough to the extent that he should have been. We knew each other, went to the same parties, but I believe he was a bit older. Pete had an older brother, a handsome, blue eyed, wavy haired fellow who was extremely popular. I didn’t know him well, though I believe he was in one of my older sister’s crowd. One indelible memory I have of him was at a big party at the Hugus home, drinks were flowing, the air was a haze of cigarette smoke, a piano was being played, conversations were loud and overlapping, and Joe brought the place to respectful silence with his beautiful singing voice in a rendition of the “Our Father.” You know it was an extraordinary performance when it quieted a well oiled cocktail party.

Pete was rather big and had a handsome face with a well controlled right eyebrow which he could arch a la Vincent Price. This was a visual exclamation point used to great advantage in his frequent descriptions and opinions which had a distinctive theatrical flavor. As a youngster, he drove about town in a “car” which he had fashioned from scraps. It was a platform made of raw, third cut slabs of wood set upon an auto chassis with a steering column with wheel sticking up through the platform. There was only one seat for the driver which was a large upholstered arm chair. The gas tank was a beer keg, quarter size strapped on behind the arm chair. This gave us all an idea of Pete’s creativity, independent spirit, and his lack of interest in anything that smacked of conformity. His older brother was probably better looking and had a much greater singing voice, but Pete was much more interesting.

It was in the late 1950s. A lot of us were home from the service in the Korean War, and we had pent up ideas which were incubated in the democratic barracks and b.o.q.s of the military. We wanted to start a new Country Club. It was to be called Clinton Hills and was to be located near Clinton where Route 88 crossed GC&P road.

We had a golf architect who said it would be the most level course in WV and with only 2 major excavations. It was designed for young families with plenty of activities for people of all ages and included a baby sitting service. It was not going to be just a golf club which was strictly a man’s domain in those days, it was going to be a family affair with everyone invited. We were not shooting for exclusivity, we were shooting for active participation by everyone. We had firm bids and options on the land. Our architect had designed a building which was years ahead of its time with a labor saving plan allowing one or two people to operate the club house during the slower winter months.

Our architect was Pete Jefferson.

We had a Sales Brochure and a Prospectus which was conservatively stated. For instance, the sale of lots around the golf course were not mentioned. The financial nut was the sale of Lifetime Memberships at $5000.00 to the older, well established members of our community, with many who encouraged us to proceed with the early plans. We were all fired up. We had solid bids and options and good ideas that were organized and on paper and the vocal encouragement of the key elements of our community. We were fired up even after much time spent and hard work.

It didn’t fly. I have always regretted that this new concept of a family oriented organization with activities designed to engage men and women of all ages didn’t get off the drawing boards, as it just might have stopped some of the young folks of that era from moving out of town. The two main reasons it failed are no longer even relevant. Pete later moved to Florida and designed homes and estates built on private islands purchased by those who could afford such lavish privacy. I was told that he had a home in Florida where a river met the ocean; that he had a deck out over the water where his bathtub was located. It was one of those big old things on four clawed feet where he would sit and soak and watch the ships and boats ply the waters from his extensive “yard”.

During later years, I stopped for coffee at “HO JOs” before going to work. One morning I said something in our group and a thunderous voice with a theatrical accent bellowed out “Bill Hogan”!   I had heard that theatrical accent described as mid-atlantic i.e., somewhere between Boston and England. It was Pete, and he was on his way to New York to be one of Macy’s Santa Claus’. He did this for a number of years. He was perfect with his handsome face and a full flowing beard. He had stopped off to see his niece Joyce Jefferson.

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The last time I saw Pete was years ago, probably in the mid 1970s. I stopped at the Alpha, Wheeling’s favorite watering hole, and sitting at the bar resplendent in an ascot tie was Pete. Pete’s vocal delivery with his well formulated, mellifluous, creamy, and his well projected and theatrical accent would have made his description of a cement block absolutely fascinating. And, topping it all off was the Ascot tie!   Pete had the bar regulars, a real hearty bunch, in the palm of his hand.

Pete was determined to see my wife, Mary Ann, so we headed over to the house where we found Mary Ann and Peggy, our oldest just returned from a school in the Boston area. Peggy had seen and conquered the world, she thought, and was more or less putting up with her parents who, in her opinion had led sheltered and isolated lives.

That was until I arrived with Pete. Pete used the powder room and came roaring out of it extolling the exquisite shape and the fabulous green color of the toilet bowl. And made us promise that should we ever sell the house he would have an opportunity to purchase the toilet bowl and redo the powder room. After that subject cooled, he launched into a very lengthy description of the insecurity of his fellow Floridians. Pointing out that the real draw to Florida for the insecure was a sub-conscience desire to reenter the safety and security of their mother’s womb which the steady thumping of the surf reminiscent of the mother’s heartbeat and the salt water giving the same safe comfort as the water embracing the fetus. Of course, his description was really colorful and fascinating, but I believe that you get the idea. I will never forget the look on Peggy’s face of complete fascination and almost rapture. And for the rest of her vacation she regarded her parents with a new attitude of quizzical disbelief, trying to relate her dull parents to this erudite and worldly man in the ascot tie.

When Wheeling lost Pete Jefferson, we lost a lot more that a promising architect.

“The Tree House” Peter Jefferson design in Coconut Grove, Florida.

From the Talahassee Democrat, the obituary of Peter Augusts Jeffersonm, September 11, 2015:

Peter Augustus Jefferson, Fellow, American Institute of Architects, 87, passed away on September 9th. A native of Wheeling West Virginia, Peter studied at Washington and Jefferson College and the University of Michigan. He became an architect in 1954. He was a noted architect who designed everything from a jail, museums, libraries, commercial buildings and many beautiful homes. He was the recipient of many architectural awards and his drawings are archived at the University of Miami. He was active in the places where he lived, donating his services to communities in Stuart, Florida, Highlands, North Carolina and Tallahassee, Florida. He enjoyed serving as a docent at the Florida Museum of History where he was recognized as an expert on Highwaymen paintings. He also enjoyed portraying Santa Claus at parades and at Macy’s in New York City in 1984.

Peter was predeceased by his father Joseph Jefferson, his mother Josephine Stultz, his brother, Joseph Jefferson, Jr., and his daughter, Ann Jefferson. He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Joan Jefferson; his children, Mark Jefferson (and wife Lisa), Dale and Dean Alexander, Angelique Koger; grandchildren, Marisa and Peter Jefferson, Brandon and Max Koger; nieces, Judy Vance and Joyce Jones and his loving cat, Torsi.