Obituary: Peter Herbert was a busy volunteer, instant best friend

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 18, 2012 - 8:59 PM

Peter Herbert

Trish Herbert knew that her husband, Peter, had befriended a lot of people, but she never realized how many until his death. "The UPS man got really sad when I told him," she said. "That's when I realized that I didn't know" how vast his social circle was.

Peter Herbert, 76, of Minnetonka, a Renaissance man who may have been best-known as a busy and beloved volunteer, died Dec. 10 after a brief illness.

Herbert made friends often and instantly, said Gene Sylvestre, a 40-year acquaintance. "He'd go into a store and introduce himself to the shopkeeper. He'd introduce himself to clerks, nurses, dentists, to everyone."

And he'd remember all of their names, Trish Herbert said. "He had that gift of meeting people, hearing their name once and never forgetting it," she said.

His specialty was making everyone feel special, said family friend Nancy Roehr. "He was kind to everybody," she said. "He and Trish built a cabin with their own two hands and hosted get-togethers at it. Everyone who went up there was always welcome."

The Herberts were married for 52 years. He was a stockbroker and she was a psychologist, and because of the confidentiality restrictions of both professions, "he couldn't say anything and I couldn't say anything, so it wasn't until he retired that I started catching up with his other life," Herbert said. "I didn't know that he was such an extrovert until he retired and started talking."

He had a wide range of interests and mastered them all, Sylvestre said. "He could have been a naturalist because he loved the outdoors," he said. "He could have been an engineer. He could have been a teacher."

In fact, after retiring at 62, he volunteered five days a week at the Minnetonka Community Education Center, where one of his duties was to help teacher Mayo Hart lead citizenship classes for immigrants.

"He was very good at gaining people's trust," she said. "He made me a better teacher, and he made the class a better class."

He was perpetually upbeat, said Tim Litfin, the center's executive director. "If you were fortunate enough to have met Peter, you met joy," Litfin wrote in a letter announcing Herbert's death to the staff. "If you were fortunate enough to have shared a conversation with Peter, you spoke to a happy man."

Roehr said that when she visited him in the hospital on what turned out to be the day before he died, his outlook was as rosy as ever. "He said, 'If I have to be sick, this is the place to be, because everyone is so wonderful,'" she said.

His health deteriorated so quickly that doctors could hardly keep up with the diagnoses. "He got sick on Friday afternoon, but we thought it was the flu," Trish Herbert said. "He went into the hospital Friday night. They found a mass on one of his kidneys -- he said, 'That's OK, I have two kidneys' -- and then blood clots in his lungs, and he died Monday morning."

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Molly, Laura and Nelle; a son, Charlie, and 11 grandchildren. Services will be held at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 29 at Southshore Community Center, 5735 Country Club Road, Shorewood.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

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