Feb. 16, 1926-Feb. 6, 2023
Palo Alto, California
Isabel Peterson passed peacefully at her home in Palo Alto on February 6th, 2023, ten days before her 97th birthday. She was born on February 16th, 1926, in Madison, Wisconsin.
Throughout her life Isabel was passionate about dance and drama. She was a child star in vaudeville shows throughout the midwest, known as “Baby Isabella, the Darling of the Stage.” She amazed audiences with acrobatics and dance routines. She was a fixture in the theater world at her high school and at the University of Wisconsin.
Isabel later guided and inspired young dancers at a private studio in the Bay Area. Her flair for performance and mastery of the stage undoubtedly contributed to her brilliance as an educator. She taught Dance, Drama, and Literature at Sacred Heart School in Menlo Park for over twenty years, until her retirement in 1994. So profound was her impact on the lives of her students that the school named the dance studio in the new performing arts building after her.
Isabel’s love of performing continued long after her retirement. She was undeniably a star of the Senior Citizens Improv Group at the Palo Alto Senior Center, well into her nineties.
Isabel had a lifelong love for reading. She consumed the New York Times everyday, even on her last morning. Her home was filled with countless volumes of novels, poetry, and non-fiction collected over the years, many of which she annotated in the margins.
Her love of teaching and reading continued when she retired. She volunteered at a local public elementary school to help young children learn to read. One of her favorite memories was seeing the joy in one young boy’s eyes when she took him to get his first library card. Isabel participated in book clubs with friends and family, including on the day before her death.
Isabel met the love of her life, Eugene Peterson, at the University of Wisconsin. It was so clear they were soul mates that they married after only three months of knowing each other. Isabel jokingly told people “He was the only man I ever met who was smarter than me.”
Isabel and Eugene moved to California in the mid 1950s to build a new life together in the Golden State. They bought a home in Palo Alto in 1959, where they raised three children. Their shared commitment to social justice brought them to the Quaker Friends Meeting in Palo Alto. They served as representatives of the American Friends Service committee for legislation in Sacramento.
Isabel and Eugene were married for 60 years, and best friends every day. Knowing her love of words, Gene wrote Isabel love letters and poems over the course of their life together. They traveled the world in their retirement. After Gene passed, Isabel lived a life of independence in the home they shared until her final day.
Isabel expressed loving devotion and experienced great joy in her role as mother to her three children, Marco, Lynn, and Leif.
Isabel was the ideal grandmother and great grandmother. Her playful spirit and limitless patience made her the perfect companion. When the kids were young she was their favorite playmate. When they started their own families, she was a source of wisdom and inspiration. Isabel loved her grandkids Nichole and Carly, Dylan and Eamon, and Kelly. She took pride in their every accomplishment, and empathized with their every struggle. Her great grandkids Aedan and Alana, and Aron and Fenna, are old enough that they will hold her in a special place in their hearts. Isabel was thrilled that she got to hold five-month-old Maren in her arms in the last weeks of her life.
There was a loving relationship between Isabel and her friends and neighbors in Palo Alto. She formed a special bond with Mary Fitzgerald, whom Isabel considered a kindred spirit. As she advanced in years, kind friends like Peter O’Riordan, Diana Darcy and others checked on her regularly, bringing homemade dishes of her favorite foods, and providing conversation and companionship. Isabel formed a long close friendship with Peter and Diana’s daughter Sarah, who is now a college student. Though nearly 80 years separated them, Isabel saw the light in Sarah’s eyes and the love in her heart.
Isabel took enormous pleasure, especially later in life, from her relationship with dogs. People in her neighborhood would strike up conversations when she was on her daily walk with her beagle, Fred. After Fred passed away at 16, Isabel thought that in her nineties she might be too old for another dog. But as the pandemic cut off other social outlets, Isabel decided to adopt an old dog named Ramsey from Muttsvillle, which matches senior dogs with senior citizens. Isabel and Ramsey truly rescued each other.
Although Isabel faced serious health challenges in her final years, she lived each day exactly how she wanted: reading, connecting with friends and family, and caring for her dog. After a serious fall in late December, Isabel worked diligently with a dedicated physical therapist to be able to resume her normal routines, right up to her final day.
Isabel had initiated many conversations over the years with her trusted primary care doctor and her family regarding how she wanted to approach the inevitable. Isabel was absolutely committed to the idea that she would know when her time had come.
On the morning of February 6th, holding her daughter’s hand, with her beloved Ramsey on her lap, and assisted by a compassionate doctor and nurse from Mission Hospice, Isabel chose to take the medication that allowed her to finish her life’s journey on her own terms.
Isabel asked for a green burial, which was performed on February 10th at Purissima Cemetery in Half Moon Bay, on a verdant hilltop with a view of the Pacific, surrounded by friends and family who loved her dearly and will keep her memory alive forever.
Isabel was preceded in death by her husband Eugene, her son Leif, her sister Lois, and her brother Bud. She is survived by her son Marco and her daughter Lynn; her nephew Michael; her grandchildren Dylan and Eamon, Nichole and Carly, and Kelly; and her great-grandchildren, Aedan and Alana, Aron and Fenna, and Maren.
Anyone wishing to memorialize Isabel is encouraged to donate to an organization that cares for animals.