Peter R. Scholtes, 1938-2009

Peter Scholtes

Peter Raymond Scholtes died on the morning of July 11 at his home in Madison, Wisconsin, surrounded by family. Peter had a profound impact on those who loved him, and on many more who never met him. He was blessed with amazing talents, and shared them generously with people all over the world. Throughout his life--whether as a priest, musician-composer, social worker, teacher, community organizer, therapist, author, or consultant--Peter had a genius for making complex and important ideas easy to grasp and put to use. He was confident in his convictions, but embraced differences, and cherished his friendships that bridged cultures and countries.

Peter wrote the hymn "They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love" while he was a parish priest at St. Brendan's on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s. At the time, he was leading a youth choir out of the church basement, and was looking for an appropriate song for a series of ecumenical, interracial events. When he couldn't find such a song, he wrote the now-famous hymn in a single day. His experiences at St. Brendan's, and in the Chicago Civil Rights movement, influenced him for the rest of his life.

After working in the public sector in Lynn, Massachusetts, and Madison, Wisconsin, Peter became a consultant with Joiner Associates in the 1980s, traveling the globe to help businesses engage employees' talents more fully, humanely, and effectively. He co-authored The Team Handbook, which was named one of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time (in the book of that title). After starting Scholtes Seminars and Consulting, he wrote the classic The Leader's Handbook in 1998, which made the definitive case against performance appraisal--a practice he argued was demoralizing and wrong.

Peter often told stories of a very happy childhood in Oak Park with loving parents and sisters and a large extended family. Peter was born to Lambert Peter and Mary Rose Scholtes on November 20, 1938 in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in Oak Park, where he attended Ascension School and Fenwick High School before studying at Quigley and St. Mary of the Lake-Mundelein seminaries. He earned his Masters in Adult Education and Organization Development at Boston University.

Peter and his wife Peg blended their families and raised their four children in the city that he loved, Madison. They welcomed friends and strangers from around the world to live with them in their loving, crazy, and active home. Peter's sense of humor and irony were a cornerstone of the household. He loved being a father. His kids remember a family life filled with love, music, singing, and elaborate ways to make group decisions. Nothing made him happier in his final years than spending time with his grandchildren. "Boppy" was "crazy, nuts, and gaga" for them.

After illness forced his retirement, Peter stayed involved in the community, volunteering every week at Meriter hospital in the Day Rehab program, where he had been a patient. The Capitol Square was his front yard, and he always looked forward to his weekly trips to the Farmer's Market. The decision to stay at home at the end of his life was enabled by Hospice Care and loving family and friends, especially Fazel Hayati.

He is deeply missed by his wife Peg Scholtes; his sisters Carol Reilly and Mary Kay Marcum (and her husband Jim Marcum); his children Peter S. Scholtes (and his fiancee Jenny Woods), Matthew Scholtes (and his wife Gretchen Kapperman), Jenna Hansen (and her husband Paul Hansen), Benjamin Casbarro, and Abbi Alemu; his grandchildren, Sophia and Lilah Hansen; and his "fluffy white thing," Moxie.

Peter always ended his business letters wishing people joy in their work, and ended every prayer with "And let there be peace in the world."

A Memorial Celebration of Peter's Life