Friends will remember him as an amiable, soft-spoken man who dedicated the latter part of his life to an island community he came to love and serve.
Colleagues will remember him as an Air Force Colonel and combat pilot who switched to the operational side of commercial aviation to hold more than half a dozen senior positions countrywide in a career that spanned more than 40 years.
And, his wife will remember him as a loving spouse who remained cheerful and upbeat right up until this past Sunday when he finally succumbed to a three-year battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
It had been a special weekend for Jim Peterka, said his wife Monica. Under hospice care at home for the previous two weeks, the twosome decided to enjoy a “snow” day together on Saturday evening because of the cold snap that had hit Marco Island.
“He suggested the snow day,” Monica Peterka said. “It’s what they do up north when it gets really cold. So, we watched movies, and had some wine and pizza. We watched Little Miss Sunshine, and The Devil Wears Prada.”
The next morning, she said, her husband lost the fight.
That fight, said Sandi Riedemann-Lazarus represented the ultimate in stoicism and bravery.
Riedemann-Lazarus, who is Executive Director of the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce, said Peterka had been a member of the inaugural Leadership Marco program in 2002.
“He was a great supporter of the Chamber, and all of our events,” Riedemann-Lazarus said. “Everybody knew about his illness, and that he always had a smile throughout.”
Former Chamber President Pat Neale agreed.
“He was always his old self, amazingly so,” Neale said. “He was at a Chamber After 5 gathering as recently as this January.”
Monica Peterka said she and Jim had been lifelong friends in Maryland, but had both raised their own families.
“I didn’t realize for all that time that I was in love with the guy,” she said.
Redemption came in 1997 when their paths crossed again, and they married in 1997, a year before moving to Marco Island.
In his final career move, Jim Peterka served as Senior Facilities Manager at Southwest Florida International Airport, and was directly responsible for all planning, programming, budgeting and management of the airport facilities program.
He retired in June, 2003, and was diagnosed with ALS four months later.
Monica Peterka said it was typical of her husband that before his death he stipulated samples of his DNA should be used for researching the dreaded disease.
“He said he just hoped it might help somebody else,” she said.
Jim Peterka, who is eligible for a burial with full military honors, was 66. A memorial service is planned for this Friday on Marco Island, with details to follow.