William J. Petersen, long known for his work in Christian publishing - including 25 years with Revell - died of Covid-19 on January 31. He was 91 and living in Colorado Springs, Colo.
After graduating from Wheaton College, Petersen began his career at Christian Life magazine in the mid1950s and moved on to spend 30 years at Eternity magazine, where he rose to become the editor as well as executive director of its publisher, Evangelical Ministries, Inc.
When Eternity folded in 1988, Petersen became editorial director and vice president at Revell Publishing, then located in Tarrytown, N.Y. When it was purchased by Baker Publishing Group in 1992, he moved with Revell to BPG’s headquarters in Grand Rapids. “Bill was a link to the Revell author team that we did not have at the time,” said Dwight Baker, president and CEO of BPG. “He was a bridge between what Revell was doing and what Baker needed to do.”
Petersen stepped down as editorial director of Revell in 1997, but remained with the company part-time as an acquiring editor until 2013. He worked primarily with Revell’s longtime authors, including Dr. Kevin Leman, author of The Birth Order Book, and Sandra Felton, author of The Messies Manual.
“Bill’s personality was congenial and calm, which was helpful because that was a very anxious time as we tried to turn BPG into a trade company,” said Baker. “He was a window into that business model and a facilitator for that transition. We adored Bill; he was sweet and funny.”
According to his family, Petersen loved to travel, was a talented Bible teacher, church leader, and song leader. He wrote dozens of books beginning with the missionary biography Another Hand on Mine in 1967, then writing works on travel, marriage, history, and hymns. In his eighties, he self-published a trilogy of mystery novels he dubbed “The Octogenarian Sleuth.”
“I remember as a kid seeing Dad on the living room couch with piles of manuscripts. I thought that was cool and fascinating. Perhaps those memories were my attraction to the world of writing, editing, and publishing,” said Ken Petersen, an editor and an author who has spent decades in Christian publishing. “I learned from Dad the importance of relationships with authors and editors, as he approached everyone with generosity and grace,”
Petersen was preceded in death by his wife Ardythe in 2011. In addition to his son Ken, Petersen is survived by son Randy, daughter Kathryn, son-in-law Christopher Colucci, and daughter-in-law Rita Dotson.