Peter Blake Wise


Died August 11, 1984

College: Timothy Dwight

Children: Robyn, 1961; Jessie, 1970; Nicholas, 1980

Peter was born Gerald Laing Wise Jr. and at times used Peter Creigh Blake when he wanted to deny association with his father completely. (Blake is his mother’s maiden name.) The source of Pete’s name variations was his feuding parents. His mother called him Peter, and his father referred to him as Gerry Jr. To many in the 1961 senior class, Peter was known as “Cactus”. (As a child, I called him “Gerry-Peter!”)

Cactus Pete was a name that began prior to his arrival at Yale. Peter had been traveling in Mexico and was granted this name by his new Mexican friends while drinking pulque, a fermented drink made from cactus juice.

Peter transferred from MIT to Yale in his sophomore year. He sang with the Augmented Seven, played cards and prepared to be a person who would not follow the “Wise” family plan to join the family’s longstanding successful newspaper business.

While others were balancing studies with wine and women in their senior year, Peter, who lived off campus, had no issue with either. He was successful with women to a degree of which others could only dream. However, what at times is a blessing is often followed with responsibilities.

In 1961, Cactus Pete and Louise Schmidt had a daughter, Robyn, who was raised by Pete’s father. In 1970, he and Judy Minetti Raven had a daughter, Jessie, who was raised by Judy. And in 1980, he and Georgia Steriopulos had a son, Nicholas, with whom Peter spent time, but who was only four when Peter died.

The responsibility of fatherhood and the constraints of the office life didn’t agree much with Cactus. After graduation he did a short stint with P&G. He then spent a few years in Advertising with J. Walter Thompson in New York and Ketchum, MacLeod & Grove in Pittsburgh, PA and a year as a stock broker who touted gold stock investments. It was at this point when he learned to fly planes from a WWII pilot, Capt. Bill McGowin.

Capt McGowin flew DC3s, and so did Pete. Peter settled in and piloted DC3s, including his own private DC3. This enabled Peter to explore and travel as he wished. He took commercial pilot contract jobs in Texas, Cairo and Florida during the 1970s and early 1980s.

On August 11, 1984, Peter took off from Memphis at 1:00 a.m., but his heavily loaded plane could not clear some utility lines on take-off. His number 1 engine, just serviced, was missing a spark plug. The engine caught fire and failed. Peter’s best attempt to circle back to the landing field failed, and his life ended in a tremendous collision with a women’s army uniform warehouse. It took firefighters two days to put out the fire which made national news.

The constant in Pete’s life was an eclectic supply of friends who adored him, his love for music and entertaining others. He was the center of attention and always full of crazy, fun stories that often were accompanied by his guitar. His life and his imagination were undoubtedly the source of many of his stories.

Reflecting on my father’s life, I think that in spite of all the fun and fantasies, his incredible way with women and his adoring friends, he was very alone. I always had the sense that he was never settled and content with the life he had chosen. He should have been an actor, a Hollywood leading man. He would have been in his glory and most likely very successful.

At Pete’s funeral many strangers told me that Pete was “the love of my life”. And after twenty-five years, the manager of the cemetery where Peter Blake Wise is buried, continues to say that Peter’s grave site is still the most visited in the cemetery.

—by Robyn C. Wis