Margie Petersen, lifelong philanthropist, co-founder of the eponymous Petersen Automotive Museum and noted car collector, has died. For automotive enthusiasts, a visit to the Petersen Museum has long been an essential pilgrimage, and the Petersens’ contribution to the preservation of car culture cannot be overstated.
The wife of the late publishing magnate Robert E. Petersen passed away peacefully at her home in Beverly Hills on the evening of Nov. 25, 2011. Her passing was due to a long and valiant battle with breast cancer. She was 76.
A beautiful and active lady, Margie McNally Petersen was born and raised in New York and was a top professional model having appeared on hundreds of magazine covers, as well as in hundreds of TV commercials for a variety of national advertisers such as Coca-Cola and Ivory Soap. A former Miss Rheingold, Mrs. Petersen was also a television actress, as well as under contract with MGM.
Her husband Robert E. Petersen, founder and chairman of the board of Petersen Publishing Company predeceased her in 2007. Together they were the founding benefactors of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles where she also served on the Board of Directors. Most recently, Mrs. Petersen made a gift to the Petersen Automotive Museum of their car collection, the building that houses the Museum and a monetary gift which totals $100 million.
Together they owned the famous Scandia Restaurant located on the Sunset strip and Petersen Galleries, located in Beverly Hills, which featured up and coming Western and Wildlife artists and in the later years, featured Plein Art and Hudson Valley artists.
Throughout her life, Mrs. Petersen was affiliated with numerous charitable organizations including The Amazing Blue Ribbon of the Music Center, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, The Diadames, The Los Angeles Orphanage Guild, The League for Children, Childhelp U.S.A. and was the “St. Jude Research Hospital Woman of the Year”. With her husband, she was a major donor to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles as well as to The Music Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
She chaired the annual Thalians Ball numerous times with the proceeds going to The Thalians Mental Health Clinic at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. She was also one of the founders of the Cedars Sinai Research for Women’s Cancers which raised almost $7 million in less than four years, to fund a new institute dedicated to women’s cancers.
In 2008, reflecting the passion for life and a legacy of philanthropy she and her husband shared, the Margie & Robert E. Petersen Foundation gifted $15 million to St. John’s Health Center and the John Wayne Cancer Institute, which included the naming of the Margie Petersen Breast Center at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. Having been a breast cancer survivor for more than 20 years, she was also a founding member of STOP Cancer and a member of the ABC’s (Associates for Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer Studies).
Many thousands of children at risk have experienced an improved quality of life as a result of the generosity and efforts of Mrs. Petersen and her late husband, through their support of S.H.A.R.E, the Hugh O’Brian Foundation, The Jeffrey Foundation and the Boys and Girls Club of Hollywood. They commemorated their support by naming the new Club building “The Margie and Robert E. Petersen Boys & Girls Club of Hollywood”.
She had a great interest in interior design and was the Vice President of Petersen Interiors & Design, which was an in-house design firm for her late husband’s company where she was instrumental in furnishing the office buildings for Petersen Publishing Company. She helped design the beautiful mission style 16,000 sq. ft. building terminal building which housed Petersen Aviation at Van Nuys Airport.
She was a supporter of the Friends of Robinson Gardens, as one of her favorite pastimes was gardening; in fact, she created a beautiful Georgian garden, of which the rose garden was her favorite. Her garden was featured on the Robinson Garden tour some years ago.
Mrs. Petersen continued in her position on the Board of Directors of the Petersen Automotive Museum Foundation – an educational organization developed to support her and her husband’s educational museum, built to pay tribute to the automobile.
Today the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles stands as the nation’s premiere automotive museum, serving thousands of visitors each year. Its mission remains to educate and excite generations of auto enthusiasts with the fascinating stories, vehicles and people that have influenced the American love affair with the automobile – a mission that has been a resounding success thanks to the generosity of its main benefactor.
She and her husband were predeceased by their two sons in 1975. There are no immediate family survivors.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Petersen Automotive Museum at 6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036, or the charity of your choice in Mrs. Petersen’s honor.