A Loss of a Friend

Peter S. Shoenfeld, devoted husband and father, mathematician, and lover of the outdoors, and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy member and Board member, died on Monday, November 13, 2017.

Peter was born in 1939 in New York City. His family moved to the Washington DC area two years later when his father joined the information office of the old War Production Board. Against the wishes of his parents—non-religious, leftist intellectuals—Peter rode the bus and streetcar from their apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland, to attend Hebrew school in the District. Peter had warm memories of life in DC as a young man. He camped as a Boy Scout on the grounds of the Old Soldiers’ Home; went to baseball games with his father at Griffith Stadium; and later lived in a group house in Mount Pleasant. He lunched with colleagues at Billy Simpson’s on Georgia Avenue, and enjoyed DC’s country music and bluegrass scene.

After graduating from Lehigh University, Peter went to work for the National Bureau of Standards. He also earned a masters degree at Howard University and ran the university’s computing office during the tumultuous 1960’s. He went on to receive a PhD in Mathematics from University of Maryland. As a longtime contractor for the Defense Department at the northern Virginia based company SAIC, he developed the mathematics for guiding missiles launched from nuclear submarines.

Although he resided in Silver Spring, MD for much of his adult life, Peter took every opportunity to visit more remote environments. He enjoyed backpacking and orienteering, and loved swimming in wild rivers and lakes. Finding unknown swimming holes, especially cold ones, gave him great pleasure.

Peter’s love for the outdoors led him to buy a small plot of land outside Franklin, West Virginia in the mid-1970s. Over the course of many years, he built a small cabin on the site and spent as much time there as he could. At first he went there frequently on his own, but after remarrying in 1981, was almost always joined by his beloved wife Marilyn. The couple moved later moved to Canaan Valley, by which time Peter considered West Virginia his true home. In retirement Peter became actively involved with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy/

Tragically, Peter contracted multiple system atrophy not long after retiring. This rapidly curtailed his physical abilities, but he continued to engage in environmental research and activism online. Among other pursuits in recent years, Peter served as key contributor to a scientific study on windmills and bird mortality. During a family visit to the nursing home where he lived his final years, he reported that he had come to a new understanding of quantum physics. Peter kept his sense of humor, occasionally cracking jokes at his own expense and laughing himself into coughing fits.

Peter loved to cuddle with the many cats he and Marilyn adopted over the years, and he was a proud husband and father. He is survived by Marilyn Shoenfeld, his wife of 36 years, daughter Sarah Shoenfeld (Steve Longenecker), son Andrew Shoenfeld (Claire Serenska), grandchildren Ruthie and Ammon Longenecker, and sister Jane Shoenfeld (Donald Levering).

Editor’s note:  This is a very lightly edited version of the obituary that appeared in the newspaper.  Even if it reflects Peter’s life, it does not completely reflect his Highlands Conservancy life.  My call to the Board for remembrances of Peter that more completely his life with the Conservancy produced the responses on the following two pages.