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Dr. Alan Peters

December 6, 1929 — February 18, 2022

Dr. Alan Peters, a neuroanatomist whose research and writings have greatly impacted the field of neuroscience, passed away Friday, February 18th with his daughters by his side.

Alan was born in Nottingham, England on December 6, 1929, the only child of the late Robert and Mabel (Waplington) Peters. He was raised and educated in Nottingham during WWII. While at High Pavement Grammar school, Alan realized he had a strong affinity for biological science. Upon graduation, he was awarded a state scholarship to attend the University of Bristol, where he received his B.Sc. in 1951 and a Ph.D. in Zoology in 1954.

While on a visit back home to Nottingham in 1953, Alan was reacquainted with an old childhood friend, Verona Shipman. He took this "very attractive, darkhaired girl" to Goose Fair and their courtship began. They were married for 60 years, until her death in 2015. Rona was his best friend, supported him throughout his career and provided a loving environment for Alan and their three daughters.

After serving a two-year requirement in Germany for the Royal Army Medical Corp, Alan was offered a position at the University of Edinburgh as research fellow and then a lecturer. His colleague Alan Muir had an electron microscope and he taught Alan how to prepare specimens for ultrastructural study with electron microscopy. This experimental approach, led Dr. Peters to be one of the first to show that the myelin sheath in the central nervous system has a spiral architecture. This interpretation gave his career a boost, and resulted in an invitation to spend a year at Harvard Medical School as a visiting lecturer in 1963. He would be working with Dr. Sanford Palay, another neuroscience pioneer, who became a co-author and close friend.

After returning to Scotland for a short time, Alan was approached by Boston University Medical School to Chair the Department of Anatomy, an appointment he held from 1966 until 1998. During his early tenure there, he pursued funds from NIH to purchase his own electron microscope, which he used to describe the axon initial segment for the first time in collaboration with his friend and Harvard colleague, Sandy. Together with Palay and Dr. Henry deF Webster, Alan published "The Fine Structure of the Nervous System", a ground breaking work, which continues to be a cherished and invaluable possession of innumerable neuroscientists till this day. His electron micrographs continue to be broadly recognized as the absolute "gold standard".

In the course of his remarkably productive scientific career, Dr. Peters was notable for the uniformly outstanding precision and quality of his work. He was the recipient of many honors and awards. The two he was most proud of were the Henry Gray Award 1998, the most prestigious award the American Association of Anatomists gives and the Honorary Doctor of Science degree he received from the University of Edinburgh in 2011. Alan's approach to research was invariably thoughtful, insightful and careful. He was equally thoughtful and generous in his interactions with his colleagues and the many students he mentored. Despite stepping down as chairman of the department in 1998, Alan continued publishing papers and conducting his research on the cerebral cortex and aging of the brain until his retirement at age 83.

When not in the office or lab, Alan cherished the time he spent with his wife and family. He and Rona traveled the globe, but their favorite memories were from time spent in Bermuda and at their cottage in Ashburnham, MA. In his free time, Alan enjoyed building museum quality model ships, collecting stamps and playing the piano. He also generously donated his time and resources to charitable organizations, including the Waltham Education and Beyond Foundation and the Friends of the Waltham Public Library.

Dr. Peters was the husband of the late Verona M. Peters and the father of the late Sally E. Peters.

He is survived by his daughters Ann V. Peters (William Bannan) and Susan C. Shaw (James), all of Waltham; beloved "Papa" to his grandchildren Margot and Benjamin Allison and Peter Shaw; a great-grandson, Ethan Allison; and a niece Jayne Parnell of England.

Family and friends will honor and remember Dr. Peters' life by gathering for his memorial service on Sunday, March 6th at 11 a.m. in The Joyce Funeral Home, 245 Main Street (Rte. 20), Waltham.

A broadcast of the service will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, March 6th at

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to The Multiple Systems Atrophy Coalition, 7918 Jones Branch Drive, Suite 300, McLean, Virginia 22102 and The J. Keith Butters Benevolent Fund c/o Brookhaven at Lexington, 1010 Waltham Street, Suite 600, Lexington, Massachusetts 02421-8052
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Dr. Alan Peters, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

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Sunday, March 6, 2022

Starts at 11:00 am (Eastern time)

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