Hampton, NH – Peter Olney, longtime resident of Hampton, NH, died on June 17, 2023. He was 79 years old.
Peter was raised in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the eldest of three children of Peter Butler and Frances Swift Olney. He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy and Wesleyan University, spending a year studying in Germany and traveling through Europe on his motorcycle. He received graduate degrees from MIT in architecture and Harvard in education. But he was as proud of his time learning traditional building techniques with the Amish in Pennsylvania as he was of his formal education, and was just as comfortable working on construction sites and eating in greasy-spoon diners as he was at top schools. Always skeptical of pretentiousness, he valued the beauty and integrity of a project well-done or an object well-made.
Peter spent the majority of his professional life working as an architect, developer, and builder in the seacoast NH region. He restored and renovated historic buildings and spearheaded an innovative development project called Meadow Pond Farm in Hampton, where he personally designed and built most of the homes. Peter incorporated a number creative ideas which were often ahead of their time, including prioritizing open green spaces, building one of the first solar houses in the region (for which he received a national award), combining residential and agricultural spaces, burying power lines, and being an early advocate for bike paths.
Peter was not defined by his work and is remembered best for his wide-ranging set of hobbies and interests. He enthusiastically tackled any whimsical challenge or ill-advised adventure, from riding a unicycle (which he never mastered) to building intricate jigsaw puzzles and block sets for his children. He felt most at ease outdoors: hunting for lady’s slipper orchids, canoeing across northern Maine with his brother, spotting nesting bald eagles while camping on a deserted island, building an ice boat to sail across a frozen pond, and identifying most trees, plants, and birds on any hike. He had dogs, cats, sheep, goats, chickens, and honey bees, which were a constant source of entertainment for his family and the neighborhood. Peter was an avid reader, his house stacked with books and his strong opinions jotted in the margins of virtually every one. Even in his last weeks, despite the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, he could still recite the opening lines of his favorite Frost poems.
Later in life he excelled in his role as grandfather. It was a task that suited him perfectly; allowing him to sidestep the stresses of daily life but tapping into his boundless curiosity and his affinity for the underdog. He regaled his grandkids with stories, let them drive his tractor, drew with them, played chess, and did origami. He had a gravitational pull about him; any conversation or activity with him seemed like the most interesting and important thing in the world.
He will be missed.
A memorial will be planned for late summer or early fall 2023. Details will be provided here.