Peter Holthe’s first love wasn’t fellow MHS 1978 graduate Kara Noren, whom he later married. His first love was, of all things…cacti. He had some 400 of the plants on the pool table of his parents’ house as a teen, an image that is still vivid in Kara’s mind.
“I knew then that he was super-intelligent, if perhaps a bit eccentric,” she says. “But at the time, I didn’t really appreciate who he was.”
In fact, Peter wrote a column called “The Cactus Corner” for the MHS Breezes, for which he was also the sports editor. His love of botany led to a Bachelor of Science degree from Ohio Wesleyan University, followed by a Master’s from Arizona State, and an MBA and Ph.D. from UC-Riverside.
At their 20th reunion in 1998 Peter “swept me off my feet,” says Kara, a romance that lasted until Peter’s death from a rare form of cancer in 2010.
During his relatively short 50 years, Peter touched the lives of many people who knew him, in ways both large and small. One example is his college roommate, Byron Pitts, who wanted to be a broadcast journalist, but had limited reading and writing skills and stuttered.
Peter worked with Byron every day during college on his writing, speaking and vocabulary. Today, Pitts is an Emmy Award-winning journalist with CBS news and a contributing correspondent for 60 Minutes. In his memoir, he included a chapter devoted to how Peter was instrumental in keeping him in college and developing the skills he needed to become a successful journalist.
While working at Roche Molecular, his last employer, Peter helped develop lifesaving HIV tests used to monitor patients in HIV therapies. He also helped start a critical trial for cervical cancer screenings.
In his nomination letter, Peter's longtime friend Jeff Hedlund ’78 wrote, “Peter had a unique combination of expertise in technology, business, and science.”
One of his former colleagues described Peter as, “one of only a few people I can think of who truly understood the intersection between science and information technology. He dedicated much of his career to improving how organizations conduct clinical research and develop new medicines.”
“Peter’s intelligence and experience were absolutely fundamental in starting up [the cervical cancer] study,” his boss at Roche recalled at his memorial service. “But his humor most of all was really important for us to keep a balance, in what was a very stressful time. We managed to enroll 47,000 women in the study. Peter made a major contribution for screening for cervical cancer, one of the most important killers of women globally.”
His wife Kara knew the other side of Peter. “We really enjoyed life together,” Kara remembers. “We’d fly fish together, we’d golf together. He cooked, I ate. We were the best things that ever happened to each other. And he was really good to his friends, very loyal. He helped people become who they really were.”
Peter Holthe passed away on February 27, 2010.