Volunteer Leader Peter Ackerman Dies

A devoted alumnus of The Fletcher School, he was passionate about finding peaceful resolutions to global conflict

Peter Akerman

Trustee emeritus Peter Ackerman, F69, F71, FG76, A02P, F03P, a major advocate for The Fletcher School and former chair of its board of advisors, died on April 26. He was 76.

Ackerman was an internationally renowned expert on nonviolent resistance and the founding chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. An accomplished businessman, he began his career in investment banking and went on to found several companies, including the online grocery retailer FreshDirect.

After completing his undergraduate work at Colgate University, Ackerman pursued graduate studies at The Fletcher School, earning a master of arts degree in 1969, a master of arts in law and diplomacy in 1971, and a Ph.D. in 1976.

Ackerman joined The Fletcher School’s Board of Advisors (then the Board of Overseers) in 1993 and became its chair in 1996. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ackerman recognized that Fletcher needed to change its strategic direction to remain competitive and to attract the next generation of students, whose interests were in conflict resolution, international business, law, and security.

In his role as chair of the Board of Advisors, he worked closely with the leadership of the school on new directions for Fletcher, providing the inspiration for the Institute for Human Security (now the Henry J. Leir Institute). The institute seeks to advance human security through pioneering research, education, and policy engagement that ensures the protection, empowerment, and well-being of all people.

Among his other contributions, he played a critical role in the master’s degree program in international management (now the master’s in international business) and the Global Master of Arts Program (GMAP).

“The Fletcher School mourns the sudden passing of Peter Ackerman,” said Fletcher School Dean Rachel Kyte, F02. “After earning three degrees from Fletcher, Peter went on to become an active and engaged alumnus, including serving several years as Fletcher Board chair. His commitment to the school was incalculable, and his lifelong work beyond Fletcher advancing the field of nonviolent resistance has long exemplified Fletcher’s mission for a more just and peaceful world.”

Ackerman became a member of the Tufts Board of Trustees in 1996. In that role, he made numerous contributions, not the least of which was his guidance on financial issues as a member of the board’s Investment Committee, which he joined in 1997 and chaired from 1998 to 2003. Chair of the Board of Trustees Peter R. Dolan, A78, A08P, characterized Ackerman’s committee service as that of an extraordinarily thoughtful investor who consistently urged the Investment Committee and staff to be forward-thinking and creative. "Peter’s vision for the potential of the university’s investment portfolio had an impact that has lasted far beyond the conclusion of his tenure as a trustee,” said Dolan.

For his dedicated volunteer service to Tufts, in 2011, Ackerman was awarded the President’s Medal. The recognition included a citation that expressed the university’s gratitude to Ackerman for his “passionate leadership, extraordinary generosity, and commitment to excellence [that] will benefit Fletcher students for years to come.”

Ackerman was also a series editor and principal content advisor in the television version of the 1999 Emmy-nominated film A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, which chronicled the history of 20th-century civilian-based resistance. He co-authored with Jack DuVall a book of the same title. In 2002, Ackerman co-produced Bringing Down a Dictator, a Peabody-Award-winning documentary for PBS on the nonviolent actions that led to the resignation of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. Ackerman was a frequent speaker at conferences worldwide as well as a guest contributor to major newspapers on the topic of nonviolent political action.

In addition to his volunteer leadership roles at Tufts, he was a trustee of Colgate University, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the board of the Atlantic Council. He also chaired the board of trustees of Freedom House.

“Peter was a brilliant American business leader, a scholar of nonviolent protest nominated for a Nobel Prize, and a proud Ph.D. graduate of The Fletcher School, which he supported so strongly,” said Admiral James Stavridis, F83, FG84, dean of The Fletcher School from 2013 to 2018. “But more importantly, he was a devoted husband and father, a mentor to so many of us, and a marvelous friend to me. I shall miss him terribly, but his vital work opposing authoritarian regimes around the world will sail on proudly—in large measure due to the breadth of his intellect and the depth of his passion to that singular cause."

Ackerman is survived by his wife, Joanne, and his sons Nate and Elliot A02, F03.

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