Mary Petersen

January 11, 2012

Mary Petersen Gives $100,000 to Support Staff Development

Switchboard job became a 40-year career at UCLA Anderson

By Robert Humphrey Gyde

In her 40-year career as an administrator at UCLA Anderson, Mary Petersen wore many hats - from running the switchboard to supervising the move to the school's current campus. Retired since 1997, Mary is now embarking on a new role as an important benefactor of the school. Her $100,000 endowment will help staff members find the same kind of opportunities to grow professionally that she enjoyed in her long and varied career.

When Mary started on the switchboard in 1957, Westwood was still a village and UCLA Anderson was the Graduate School of Business Administration, housed in what is now Dodd Hall. It was her first job after graduating with a bachelor of science in business education from UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. She was happy to be earning the princely sum of $243 a month, out of which "I could pay for my apartment, food, clothing, whatever I needed." There were fewer options to spend a paycheck in the Westwood of that era. This was long before Whole Foods, boutique hotels, designer bars and the global cuisine now on offer. Students and residents had to make do with a Bullocks department store (where the Ralphs now stands), the Fox Theater and a Desmond's clothing store. Of course, Mary adds, there were beer busts. (Some things never change.)

The business school was a much smaller institution in those days. It did, however, boast an all-star roster of faculty including Neil Jacoby, dean of the school and a member of President Eisenhower's Council of Economic Advisors; Harold Koontz and Cyril O'Donnell, co-authors of the seminal "Principles of Management"; Fred Weston, the father of M&A studies; Bob Williams, founder of the UCLA Business Forecast; and Robert Tannenbaum, a pioneer in business leadership theory. Mary recalls that relations between faculty and staff were remarkably relaxed and cordial, noting: "In the late '50s, the faculty used to get together and put on a show for the staff. They called it Faculty Frolics."

Mary thrived in the collegial atmosphere, soon parlaying her stenography qualification and practical bent into a move away from the switchboard to secretary and then senior administrative assistant. Her career advanced steadily throughout the 1960s and she was on hand to witness the campus uprisings, from sit-ins in the chancellor's office to tent cities protesting the Vietnam War. She smiles at the thought that "Even some of the faculty got arrested!" Although she hastens to add that those intrepid professors did not include "Anybody here now."

Mary married Pete Petersen in 1971. They had met many years earlier as fellow badminton devotees when he would drive her and other top junior players to tournaments. Pete was an effects specialist in the film industry spending most of his career at Twentieth Century Fox. His specialty was women's "hard wardrobe," which covered costume adornments from earrings to suits of armor. Prior to his retirement in 1980, Pete worked with many of the screen goddesses of Hollywood's golden age, including Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis and Kathryn Hepburn. Mary's enthusiasm for all things UCLA soon converted Pete into an honorary Bruin, and they were perennial basketball and football season ticket holders.

As Mary settled into married life, Harold Williams was shaking things up at the business school. Appointed dean in 1970, Williams initiated a profound transformation of the academic mission of the school and a radical reorganization of its administrative services. Mary admires Williams as an innovator who shifted the school's educational focus from the master of science degree to the more professionally oriented MBA. On the administrative side, Williams rationalized and centralized a system in which each department had previously maintained its own staff, budget and operating procedures. Mary was in a good position to appreciate the reorganization as the director of financial services, a role in which she managed many areas, including contracts, grant proposals, gifts and endowments, payroll, travel and purchasing.

Perhaps the crowning achievement of Mary's tenure at UCLA Anderson was her pivotal role in moving the school to its new campus. By the time John Anderson's gift set in motion the planning and building of the new facilities in 1987, Mary's career path had taken yet another turn into facilities management. As director of facilities services, Mary recalls that, "We planned for a couple of years before the countdown." Mary views the new complex, which opened in 1995, with great pride but also through the eyes of a facilities manager: "It's beautiful, but the atria - that's all lost space. It's not assignable square footage." She feels that the multi-building layout tends to isolate people in a way that the more cramped but intimate quarters of Dodd Hall did not: "If you don't have a particular reason to see someone, you may not see them." This is why Mary hopes that part of her gift will go to finding and furbishing a space for a new staff lounge - a venue for people to meet and get to know one another.

After her retirement in 1997 and the loss of her husband, Mary has maintained close connections to UCLA. She remains an ardent Bruins basketball and football fan and is on campus frequently to dine with friends and former colleagues at the Faculty Center. She also plays racquetball at the Wooden Center two or three days a week. Mary's first venture into Bruin philanthropy was in 2007 when she established an endowment to support women's volleyball. She sees her current gift to UCLA Anderson as filling an important gap: "Most of the fundraising that's done is to benefit students or faculty. I wanted to do something for staff."

In December 2011, Mary was honored at the staff holiday party where Dean Judy Olian applauded her for being "A shining example of Business Beyond Usual, long before we came up with the slogan. She devoted her professional life to the school and wants to help her successors in the administration grow and advance in their careers. We thank Mary for her lifetime of service and her generous gift, which will provide important future opportunities to our staff."

Mary credits her generosity to a lifelong love affair with UCLA Anderson: "It's most of my life and I'm just enchanted with the place." She's giving now while she still has colleagues working at the school who remember her. But she's eager to make one thing clear: "I intend to stay around a while!"

Contact Information

Media Relations, (310) 206-7707,

Media Relations