SARAH COOKE Associated Press Writer HELENA
Nancy K. Peterson, a Havre-area farmer and director of the state Agriculture Department, died early Saturday in Great Falls hospice care after a battle with melanoma cancer. She was 52. Peterson was diagnosed with a recurrence of the skin cancer early last fall, but underwent treatment and was improving dramatically when it spread to her brain and spinal cord in recent weeks, said Sarah Elliott, spokeswoman for Gov. Brian Schweitzer. “She will be deeply missed,” Schweitzer said. “Nancy has been a close personal friend, a wonderful boss and director and strong supporter of family agriculture in Montana. Nancy’s energy and zest for life were contagious. She worked hard and always had a smile on her face. Her family is in our thoughts and prayers.” Born in Havre and raised south of Gildford, Peterson carried on her family’s tradition in agriculture by operating a 2,600-acre farm north of Havre for more than 30 years. She also independently operated a private grain laboratory in Havre for two years and worked as a relief agent for Amtrak in Havre, Shelby and Wolf Point. She succeeded Ralph Peck, who ran the Agriculture Department for nine years, when Schweitzer took office in 2004. She had known the governor for years, serving as a fellow farmer with him on a Farm Service Agency state Committee during the Clinton administration. Peterson was hospitalized in August 2006 with a blood clot in her lungs, but returned to work shortly and was still working in recent weeks despite the recurring cancer and its eventual spread. Deputy director Joel Clairmont will serve as acting director until Schweitzer names a permanent replacement, Elliott said. Clairmont, who came on in 2004 with Peterson, described her as a strong-willed person with a passion for the agriculture industry and its people. “She’s always been a personal friend to many people,” he said. “I don’t see her as a director but as a friend and a boss.” Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Big Sandy farmer, called Peterson a “close friend, a great neighbor and a Montanan to the core.” “Her commitment and dedication to agriculture, through science, stewardship and hard work, changed Montana’s family farms and ranches forever,” he said. “She will be always be remembered, here on the Hi-Line and across the Big Sky.” A graduate of KG High School in Gildford, Peterson received certification in integrated pest management and farm applicator special use and was actively involved with the Montana Grain Grower’s Association, Montana Farmer’s Union and the Montana Certified Seed Association. She also served on an advisory council charged with writing country-oforigin labeling rules and the Montana Agriculture Development Council, Wheat and Barley Committee, Alfalfa Seed Committee, Mint Committee, Noxious Weed Management Advisory Council, Organic Commodity Advisory Committee and Montana Board of Hail Insurance. Funeral services were tentatively planned for Wednesday in Havre. Peterson is survived by her mother; two sons, Kody and Kyle; and three grandchildren. Cards can be sent to: The Peterson Family, P.O. Box 687, Havre, MT, 59501. Donations can be made to a charity of the donor’s choice or to the Sletten Regional Cancer Center at Benefis Healthcare in Great Falls or Benefis Healthcare Foundation’s Gift of Life Housing Center in Great Falls.