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A toast to Pete Peterson

July 20, 2009

Pete is a very distinguished man. We all know that. But do you know that for years some mysterious factor has been shaping his choice of friends and activities?  Let’s learn more about this. Listen to this list of his friends: John Johnson, the publisher; Tommy Thompson, the former governor; Brian O’Brien, the actor; Jamie Jamieson, the renowned highland dancer; Willie Williams, the football star; Pat Patterson, the wrestler and Nick Nicholson, the Hall of Fame motorcyclist. In music, he reached out to Robbie Robertson of the Band, guitarist Steve Stevens, British bandleader Jack Jackson and singer Phil Phillips, who as you all know, warbled the famous hit, “Sea of Love.” Now why does Pete collect all these people, and what could they have in common? Try as he might, Pete couldn’t figure it out. He thought about it a lot while reading, usually Ford Maddox Ford, William Carlos Williams and biographies of Galileo Galilei and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Pete loves the Muppets, particularly Count von Count, the Dracula look-alike who handles math duties for Sesame Street. At a party, he met a fascinating woman who knew something about the Count and a lot about Sesame Street. They got along quite well despite the fact that the woman had three completely unrelated names—Joan, Ganz and Cooney–which Pete thought was so striking that she could truly be regarded as sexy.

As you probably know, hiking is one of Pete’s favorite activities, and one day on the Appalachian Trail, Pete met a man named “Sandy” Sanford. “Sandy” explained that he was not only governor of South Carolina, but also a secret diplomat. In fact, he was on a mission to Argentina so delicate that even his own wife couldn’t be told about it. Later Pete was crushed to learn that he had misheard the gubernatorial emissary. His name was Mark, so Pete immediately lost interest. Later he made a similar mistake, referring to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson as “Paulie Paulson,” thus confusing the Treasury Department with the Sopranos—two distinctly different, or maybe just somewhat different, organizations.

Well, eventually Pete grew so troubled by his obsessive collecting of double-named friends that he decided to consult a psychiatrist about it. So he went to see Erik Erikson. The famous shrink quickly diagnosed Pete as suffering from NRS, or Nomenclature Repetition Syndrome, which often afflicts people whose first names, for some unfathomable reason, are carved out of their last names. Erikson was candid. “I’m a sufferer myself, Pete,” he confided, “and I can tell you, it’s no picnic. But remember, it’s not your fault. And you can’t be so hard on yourself,” said Erikson, evoking the two most popular insights in the entire history of psychotherapy. “It’s actually your parents’ fault, “which as you all know, is the third most popular of all therapeutic observations. “I must urge you, Pete,” Erikson continued, “Control yourself or repetition could overwhelm you.  Let me say that again: repetition could overwhelm you! For instance, you might find yourself telling the same anecdotes over and over in your speeches. Or famous friends may jocularly accuse you of writing the same book every time out, changing only the title. The names of these friends aren’t important, but do you know anyone named Ted Sorenson or Les Gelb…….”

Suddenly, the scales fell from Pete’s eyes. NRS! So this was why he listened to Duran Duran, watched 20-20, argued about Sirhan Sirhan, hung out with Boutros Boutros-Ghali and vacationed in Walla Walla! Who knew? So Pete did what he had to do. He joined NRS Anonymous and resolved to reach out to more people whose first names weren’t cobbled out of their last names like Matty Mathews or Ziggy Zigurat. And he promised himself he would write a completely different book– personal, lively and winning, with deft touches of humor–and he would call it “The Education of an American Dreamer” (and not “The Dream of an American Dreamer,” his original title).Well, that’s what he did, and it’s the reason why we are all gathered here tonight and why we honor him. Pete, here’s to you.

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