It will probably be a long time before the strains of the labor union anthem "Solidarity Forever" echo through the Gould Auditorium in the Marriott Library on the University of Utah campus.
But it seemed fitting Thursday.The friends, family and admirers of Esther Eggertsen Peterson gathered for what was called a "remembrance" that seemed part memorial service and part seminar on this contradictory and much-loved Utah woman who played a pivotal role in civil rights, labor unions, women's rights and consumer advocacy.
Peterson, who died in December 1997 at age 91, was one of the foremost consumer advocates in the country. She was a driving force behind such measures as truth-in-advertising, truth-in-packaging, meat inspection, unit pricing and nutrition labeling.
She also organized labor unions, supported civil rights, sponsored one of Utah's first conferences on women and often was referred to as "nanny to the world."
Peterson was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to the President's Commission on the Status of Women, was special assistant to the president under President Lyndon B. Johnson, and headed the Consumer Affairs Council under President Jimmy Carter. President Clinton named her as a delegate to the United Nations.
The granddaughter of Danish immigrants who were converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Esther Peterson was reared in a Provo home filled with the love of learning, a strong religious faith and also a respect for diverse opinions, said her niece, Grethe Peterson.
Esther Peterson's father was superintendent of schools and her mother was a schoolteacher, but money was tight, so they took in Brigham Young University students as boarders. The nightly dinner table discussions were spirited and diverse and no doubt strongly influenced the young girl.
Although Esther Peterson went on to espouse causes that some political and industrial leaders found frighteningly liberal, Grethe Peterson recalled that Peterson "never lost contact or respect" for her Mormon roots.
Speakers noted that her ability to handle contradictions in her own life, including balancing family life with work, also were visible in her public efforts.
She could bring industrialists, labor activists and politicians together in a way that produced legislation that benefited the entire community, and later, the world.
Grethe Peterson's husband, Chase Peterson, former president of the University of Utah, recalled that despite the fact that Esther Peterson was a fighter, she knew how to unite people in ways that many individuals in today's contentious times seem to have forgotten.
"In her fighting, she ended up fighting for everybody," Chase Peterson said.
Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, an organization Esther Peterson helped found, said he was most impressed by her humaneness, her clear and practical vision and her commitment to doing good. He said she often sang or recited verses from the Mormon hymn "Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?"
Another niece, Algene Marcus, read excerpts from Esther Peterson's autobiography "Restless" and when she came upon the words to "Solidarity Forever," began to sing, inviting the audience to join in the chorus.
Karen Peterson Wilken, Esther's daughter, read an affectionate letter that she and her siblings wrote to their mother upon her death. "You had a strong spirit, a shining soul," Wilken read. "You championed rights we now take for granted."