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Reed Alum Perishes in “Ghost Ship” Fire

By Randall S. Barton on December 13, 2016 09:58 AM

Peter Wadsworth ’02. "He was like our Dumbledore—our wise wizard."

We are sorry to report that Reed alumnus Peter Wadsworth ’02 perished in the catastrophic fire at the Oakland warehouse known as the “Ghost Ship” on December 2. The blaze claimed 36 lives.

The fire broke out during a party at the warehouse, which served as an artists’ collective. Neighbors had complained of people living in the building illegally, with trash piling up, and other unsafe conditions.

Bob Mule, Peter’s roommate in the Ghost Ship, told reporters that Peter had broken his ankle while trying to escape from the loft of his space. The oppressive heat and smoke forced Mule to abandon his attempt to pull Peter from the flames.

Peter grew up in Massachusetts. The son of Edward and Suzanne Wadsworth, he spent the first 12 summers of his life in Cohasset, where he and his younger brother, Nathaniel, learned to sail at the Yacht Club. The family lived in Boston most of the year, but their connection to Cohasset was strong. Peter loved learning about the artifacts in the Cohasset Maritime Museum and Historical Society from his Uncle David, and his great-grandfather had designed the building in which it is housed.

He majored at history at Reed, and when he was a junior he met Jane Bulnes-Fowles ’03 in Hum 210. They began dating and continued to see each other after he left Reed. Peter then moved back to Portland and lived across from campus with Jane and her Reedie roommates.

“Even though he was no longer a student, he was still very much a part of Reed during that time,” she remembered. “I found out after his death that he had driven multiple friends to their oral defenses to support them in their final tough Reed moments.”

After Jane graduated, she and Peter moved to Boston, where she found work and he studied philosophy at Harvard. Peter worked with a number of MIT startups and when they moved to the Bay Area three years ago, he continued to work with startups, artists, and artist groups. The couple broke up a few years ago, but continued to be best friends.

“In truth,” Jane said, “Peter’s work history is indicative of the very qualities that I associate with him and his time at Reed (and with so many Reedies.) He was fiercely inquisitive—he loved to learn about new things, whether that was a new take on history, another way to understand a piece of art or create something, or just a new way to think about things. He read more widely than almost anyone I ever knew.

“That enthusiasm for learning was what propelled his career. He would read about a new technology and want to work with the people and startups that were doing that. He deeply believed in the power of ideas and of possibilities—another Reed trait, I think.”

Jane said Peter would meet with someone with a great product idea, but no experience, money, or business plan, and instead of laughing at them, would see the possibilities, and spend hours talking things through with them, pointing out intersections and tangents they hadn’t though of. “It was the same spirit I saw in countless intellectual debates at Reed,” she says.

Peter’s longtime friend, Tammy Tasoff, said he was trying to get a marijuana-infused salsa company off the ground, and was also an artist who created replicas of Egyptian sculptures. He had worked at a company involved with drones, and was considered the Ghost Ship's resident computer genius. His mother said that Peter was living in the warehouse because of the high rents in the city.

“Peter was very creative, charming, personable, and open-minded, unusually so,” Suzanne said. “He was very tolerant of other views. He might not agree, but he was always willing to listen.”

Swan Vega, another artist living in the warehouse/collective, said that Peter was “a walking catalogue of correct factual knowledge. He was like our Dumbledore—our wise wizard. He was a genius. He was pure intelligence.”