Peter C. Harrelson, MD

Class Year




Posted on: April 23, 2024

When Pete was a kid — growing up in Hawaii in the mid/late 60’s — the neighborhood, Kailua- kids teasingly called him “Nature Boy.” Because he knew the names of every flower, every tree, every fruit & edible plant, they intended this mocking moniker as a jab. But, Peter never took it as such. Instead, he embraced his inner “Nature Boy” and continued to be a fascinated, actively-engaged student of the natural environment throughout his colorful, adventurous life.

Our botanical brother loved to grow things out of the dirt. Or, propagate plants from cuttings & roots. You could hear the giddy joy in his voice when he returned from a successful wild mushroom hunt. A passionate mycologist, he loved to share his morels, chanterelles, boletes, puffballs and oyster mushroom harvests. A consummate hunter & gatherer, he’d steer wildly off the road if he spotted a clump of wild asparagus, dust flying all around his truck. Or missions to Trout Lake to wet a line, he’d bring home a lunker or two so he could whip up high altitude fish tacos (ideally to share with friends). Or, perhaps an extra spicy rainbow trout green curry.

Peter was thankful for each and every dance. To enthusiastically move to the music, sharing the rhythmic, primal joy with his partners. Peter started dancing while attending the University of Virginia in the 70’s. He quickly developed a reputation and following and soon became a dance instructor. One of his UVA students/partners – a gal named Katie Couric (who went on to be a morning TV host) – was so smitten with his dancing talent that she invited him to her gala 50th birthday soiree in Manhattan. She sent him a plane ticket, coordinated a chauffeur driver, lined up his swanky hotel. The works. We recall Pete being flummoxed with what to wear. Perhaps his “Kermit” green leather suit??? Let’s just say, when it came to dressing, Mick Jagger had nothing on Peter Harrelson.

But, wild and wooly as Peter was, he had a profound and wizened professional side. Dr. Harrelson or Dr. Pete, he was not your average MD. In an age of production medical care, 25+ patients per day, solutions immediately sought via prescription pad, Peter bucked the system. He was that unicorn doc who would actually call patients — at 7:00pm on a Tuesday night — to check in and see how they/you were faring. Pete’s skillful, personable, humanistic way was a gift to the many thousands of patients he compassionately treated over the years.

Peter was enormously generous & sharing with his vast medical knowledge. Ask his neighbors in Ophir, his dear friends in Telluride, his longtime patients in Norwood, Naturita, Honokaa, Chinle, Redding and elsewhere. Or, better yet, ask his adoring family all over the planet. Peter was always there for us. Talking us off the ledge with regards to our latest maladies and medical concerns. His love for nature, for growing things, for the biology of life and good health; it all got served up in an extra-charismatic, one-of-a-kind persona in Dr. Pete.

When paying back his Public Health scholarship (that helped supplement his medical school tuition), he was assigned to work with the Navajo Nation. Pete always had a knack for learning languages and before long he had learned some Navajo words, phrases and mannerisms. Some of the elder tribes-women were so taken by his humble, thorough, respectful way, they borrowed his stethoscope and wove beautiful, blue/yellow/red bead patterns in-between the dangling surgical-tubing. Peter always found his way into people’s hearts and, as such, was welcomed into their inner-circles.

An intrepid, low-budget traveler, Peter visited dozens of countries during his 67-year run. Moving slowly — often by bus, train, boat, bicycle or hitchhiking — through Southeast Asia, India, Africa, Europe, the Americas (North & South) and so on, Peter loved embedding in other cultures. He reveled in living low on the food chain. Practicing the local languages, enjoying the regional delicacies, staying in rustic accommodations, meeting the real people. It shaped his world view and made him a more empathetic, thankful, less judgmental person. It fueled his joie de vivre.

Peter loved/loved his music and was crazy about the Telluride music scene … the continuum of perennial festivals. He would tell us all about his ‘Yellow Zone’ family and how much being with this eclectic group of cool cats fed his stoke. He would regularly share tracks and the names of musicians and bands to whom he was enthralled. Anyone who had the chance to see & hear Pete play his harmonicas knows how much he was put on this earth to bend a note. And, there was of course that “washboard” tie he’d enthusiastically wear at Bluegrass, Blues & Brews, etc., so he could bring each of you into his supernatural rhythm.

Despite Peter’s tragic exit, he was absolutely living his BEST LIFE all the way up until his last breath. Dr. Hazardson or Dr. Safety, as he would sometimes jokingly refer to himself, was addicted to fueling his flow state mojo. Backcountry snowboarding was his favorite mediation. Eight(!) days a week, he loved stomping in fresh skin tracks — right out his 9700’ backdoor — setting a blistering pace that would leave most 30-year olds in the dust. Breathing deep in exhilaration and gratitude on top, he was so jazzed to kit up, and encourage his friends/partners to “drop in, bro!” Flakes flying in a sparkling contrail of bliss, you could hear him hooting for miles – YEEHAA!

Peter was profoundly in love with his family. Never having kids of his own, he was arguably one of the best Uncles of all times. His biological father was a semi-famous pulp detective screenplay & novel writer named – you guessed it, Peter. His adoptive, all-in dad (from the age of five), Dr, A.B., was an old-school neurologist who modeled 150% dedication to patient care, frugality, and family first. Peter’s mom, Peggy, was an artist & painter, but perhaps her biggest gift was artfully arranging flowers. She studied Ikebana, Japanese flower arranging, during the family’s Hawaii years and manifested her talents – sharing it with others – throughout her blithe life. All of this nature & nurture — and so much more — coalesced to shape the brother we knew & love.

Strolling around his dearly chosen home town of Ophir, Pete would point out homes and tell us detailed stories of his cherished neighbors: their bespoke talents, their inspired accomplishments, their wunderkind children, their general bad-ass-ness. He loved you all, and the same goes for his Telluride ohana. And Norwood, and Pauillo Mauka, and so forth. Brothers, sister-in-laws, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, extended family, classmates, colleagues, girlfriends… you were Peter’s all and everything.

Pete sadly died in his Waterfall Canyon sanctuary, but he is smiling down on each of you and expecting (demanding!) that each of you, each of us, acknowledge the beauty all around. To step up and participate in those things in which we truly believe. To see the glass half full and to lift one another up.
Peace and prayers for Dr. Pete.