Peter Wilhelm Ottocar Hegener died on April 27, 2023, in West Hartford, Conn., after a brief and valiant battle with esophageal cancer. He was 84 years old. Rachel Bommer Kuhe, his wife of 19 years, was by his side.
Peter was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1938. WWII began the following year, and for the rest of his life, he was defined by his childhood wartime experiences. Because of the extraordinary bravery of his mother, Henny Sibylla Hegener, in sheltering an American pilot who had parachuted onto their farmland at the end of the war, Peter and his family were given safe passage to the U.S. aboard the RMS Mauretania in December 1950.
Peter attended Brooklyn schools, and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School as the president of his class. Among his many other accolades during that time, he proudly earned his Eagle Scout rank. He went on to graduate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
After several engineering positions, Peter was offered a job as head of career services at Princeton University. It was there that he hatched the idea of creating a compiled reference book on graduate schools, a then novel idea. In 1964, he left the university to co-found and serve as CEO of the new publication, Peterson’s Guides. Peterson’s would eventually take him to every educational institution in the U.S. and beyond. While visiting China in 1978 as a part of a delegation of U.S. publishers, Peter was informed that Peterson’s Guides were the single most popular reference books in the Chinese university library system. Over the next 30 years, the company expanded from publishing guides to graduate schools to a catalog that included both reference books and data services covering all facets of education. In addition to its historic products, the company had created and was preparing to launch a revolutionary product that would have allowed high school graduates to submit college applications online, several years before the origin of the Common App.
With the 1995 purchase of Peterson’s by the Thompson Corp., Peter became head of mergers and acquisitions for the company’s burgeoning education division. Upon retiring from Thompson, Peter turned his focus to developing real estate projects in Princeton for several years. He had served on a number of educational boards throughout his career, and his retirement allowed him to pay particular attention to his role as a board member of the International House in New York City, at Columbia University, and the American University of Cairo publishing arm in Cairo, Egypt. He continued to enjoy the remarkable reputation his unique idea spawned for the educational enrichment of others.
Peter Hegener will be remembered for his boundless energy and positive outlook. His engaging laugh and contagious smile would light up a room, and he always took an interest in learning more about the people surrounding him. His love for skiing; photographic safaris in Africa; gardening in Princeton, where his 25,000 daffodils were admired each spring; fishing at his family home in the Beaverkill Valley; and vacationing with his young family in Edgartown always gave him joy.
During the last 20 years, Peter relished his time at Rachel’s family home in West Chop on Martha’s Vineyard, where they spent much of their time together. Peter embraced West Chop as his friends and neighbors embraced him, and he could be found on the water in his favorite Whaler, Winnetou, working in the gardens overlooking Vineyard Sound, walking on the beaches and paths with his devoted dog Fritzie, and enjoying the view of the sunset from their porch. Considered to be a consummate gentleman by all who met him, Peter was proud to be a German who became a respected U.S. citizen, and was forever grateful for the educational advantages and entrepreneurial opportunities afforded him as an immigrant to this country.
In addition to his wife Rachel, Peter is survived by his former wife Karen (Casey) Lambert, the mother of his two children, Holly Hegener (Jon Cummings) and Peter Hegener (Allison); and Rachel’s children, Jonathan Kuhe (Carolyn), Tucker Kuhe (Caitlin), and Abbey Kuhe. He is also survived by his and Rachel’s beloved grandchildren Sam, Max, Josie, and James Cummings, Lily and Peter Hegener, Katie, Grace, and James Kuhe, Evelyn and Betsy Kuhe, and Bear and Bommer Gilpin. He was inordinately proud of each of them.
A memorial service celebrating Peter’s life will be held in Princeton, N.J., at a later date.
If you would like to celebrate Peter’s memory, please consider a donation to the Polly Hill Arboretum, P.O. Box 561, West Tisbury, MA 02575.