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Residents mourn culture bearer ‘Doc’ Petersen | News

ST. CROIX — Eugene ‘Doc’ Petersen, a son of the soil, historian, musician, veterinarian and revered pillar of the community, died early Sunday morning. He was 73.

News of Petersen’s death shocked many, especially on St. Croix, where just days ago he put word out for volunteers to install new chairs at Island Center for the Performing Arts.

Willard John, also a cultural bearer, said Sunday he was still trying to come to terms with the news of Petersen’s sudden death. John had spoken with Petersen just days prior to him preparing for a routine procedure, and looked forward to seeing him soon.

“He had surgery on Friday and his sister said everything went well so we were just waiting for him to recover some, and was planning to go see him on Monday,” John said. “When I got up this morning and she told me that he had passed away, I was just stunned. Our community has lost a strong pillar, and I have lost a valuable friend.”

John has known Petersen for over 40 years and connected with him through their love of animals and music.

“He loved horse racing too, and in the mid-1990s he took over horse racing on the island, and I worked with him as he put things in place to introduce simulcasting and accounts wagering,” John said.

Petersen began singing as a teenager and learned to play the guitar, which he used to accompany himself.

He excelled at calypso, but was a balladeer who sang various genres of songs.” His accomplishments, after retiring as a veterinarian, included performing live entertainment at several restaurants and clubs including Ocean View Café where his rendition of old hits like “Under the Boardwalk ” greeted customers at Sunday brunch.

Petersen’s musical background also took him around the world as he toured as a solo artist, with other musicians, and even with the Caribbean Dance Company.

“His music is known and loved all over because he has traveled to India, Denmark, parts of Europe, all over the United States, across the Caribbean and other places,” John said.

Petersen was like family — to him and countless others, John said.

“He was one of the kindest people you would meet and he had a big personality that could never be forgotten.”

Many, he said, would call on Petersen to take part in community programs with cultural or historical significance.

“No matter who it was, once we called and asked him to perform for our youth or our senior citizens, he would jump at the opportunity, and we will never forget that,” John said.

Petersen, who was born in Frederiksted, graduated from St. Croix Central High School in 1968. His affection for horses and other animals led him to Tuskegee Institute, and in 1975 he became the first Virgin Islander to earn a doctor of veterinary medicine. He returned to his beloved St. Croix and opened his own veterinary hospital in La Grande Princesse, where he practiced for 25 years.

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. remembered Petersen on Sunday, noting in a released statement that he and first lady Yolanda Bryan “join a grief-stricken Virgin Islands community today in expressing our shock and sadness” in Petersen’s death.

“Doc was many things, but above all he was a true friend and ambassador for our rich Virgin Islands culture. Like many, I was blessed to have his friendship and to receive his wise counsel on politics, horse racing and other policy issues as it relates to the arts and our Virgin Islands culture,” Bryan said. “He was always positive and enthusiastic about the progress of our community and unselfishly gave his time and wisdom to that progress. He was truly one of a kind and will be sorely missed .”

Artist Lucien Downes also remembered Petersen fondly, noting when he moved back home eight years ago, Petersen supported his dreams

“He supported my artwork and supported me as a young Virgin Islander who returned home and wanted to better our community,” Downes said. “I helped him with things he was doing at Island Center and he was just one of those people who I knew would always have my back.”

Downes said Petersen will be missed because he was genuine in the things that he did, and he inspired people on many different fronts.

“He was a great man, he loved St. Croix and its people and mentored so many people,” Downes said. “If I would use one word to describe him it would be ‘inspirational’ because he truly inspired people to do more, to give back and to spread love, even when he was just being himself and did not know that he was making an impact.”

Petersen served on many boards including the VI Veterinary Board, the Frederiksted Economic Development Board, WTJX public television, and Island Center for the Performing Arts, where he also served as executive director and was working to revitalize the hurricane-ravaged amphitheater at the time of his death.

He was an integral part of the production of Sunset Jazz, Wednesday Evening in the Park, Blue Bay Jazz Festival, and the Virgin Islands Cultural Exposé and Extravaganza. He was among entertainers scheduled to perform April 13 at the scheduled Sunset Jazz birthday tribute to Frederiksted’s beloved business woman Unise Trenberg, who died in January.

John said he is in the infant stages of coordinating a musical tribute to Petersen.

“He has touched so many people and has shared the stage with everyone. I think it would be fitting to pull our talents together for him for a dynamic send-off that would be separate and apart from anything being done along the lines of his funeral ,” he said. “He will be missed, no doubt, we will miss him greatly.”

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