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Heathcote Woolsey (“Pete”) Wales
Heathcote Woolsey Wales, known to all as Pete, died at his home in Wilson on October 6. This ended his long struggle with ALS, a disease that robbed him of mobility, but never laid a hand on his spirit, his sense of humor, his intellect, his curiosity, or his love of life, family and friends.
With him at the time of his death were his wife, Jeanie Anderson; his sons by a prior marriage Sam, Zach and Dan Wales; his sister Jane Wales, and close friend Brenda Allen. He is also survived by his daughter-in-law Tori Wales and grandchildren Luke and Aliya Wales. He was 74. He was predeceased by his father Wellington (Duke) Wales, a journalist who was on the editorial board of The New York Times; his mother, Helen Woolsey Wales, a teacher; and his brother Samuel Gardner Wales.
Born August 21, 1943, Pete was raised in New York, New England, and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands—the last of which explained his tendency to wear shorts and sandals year-round. He was educated at the Groton School; the University of North Carolina, where he was a Morehead Scholar, active in student politics, and editorial page editor of the Daily Tar Heel; and the University of Chicago Law School, where he was on the board of the Chicago Law Review.
Pete began his teaching career in 1968. Committed to civil rights, he leapt at the opportunity to teach at the University of Mississippi Law School, where he was also on the board of Northern Mississippi Rural Legal Services. That experience sparked a lifelong commitment to teaching.
After a year at the University of Texas Law School, Pete joined the Georgetown law faculty in 1971. In his decades at Georgetown, he was an award-winning professor who taught countless students and became a mentor to many. He taught constitutional law, criminal law, and law and psychiatry, and in his research, focused on the intersection of mental illness and the criminal justice system—including through analysis of the operation of a mental health court in Idaho Falls. Outside the classroom, he was well known for his enthusiastic performances in productions of the Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society.
Pete’s ties to Wyoming also began in the late 1960’s, when he visited his mother’s cousin, Betty Woolsey, at Trail Creek Ranch in Wilson. Those ties deepened with his 1986 marriage to Jeanie, a Wyoming native who skied and hiked in Jackson at every opportunity. Soon Pete and his three boys were spending summers and school vacations in Jackson Hole, where Pete interspersed exam grading and writing with hiking, biking, and skiing, while Jeanie, an international trade lawyer, commuted between Washington DC and Jackson to be with the family. The pipe-smoking professor with a distinctive moustache became a familiar figure at the rodeo, where two of the boys tried steer-riding, at the pool tables of the Cowboy Bar, and dancing on Sunday nights at the Stagecoach Bar. In the late 1990’s, Pete and Jeanie bought a house in Wilson, and a dozen years later, built a new one there. Following Pete’s ALS diagnosis 6½ years ago, he and his wife retired from teaching and law practice, finally settling in Wilson full-time.
Pete’s spirit was indomitable; ALS made him treasure life more, so he lived it to the fullest. He kept up his professional interests, consulting on an assessment of mental health resources in Teton County and publishing scholarly articles. As his mobility decreased, he traded downhill skiing for sit skiing, with the help of the can-do staff at Teton Adaptive Sports, and thanks to the experts at Jackson Hole Therapeutic Riding, he mastered getting on and off a horse so that he could go on a pack trip. Not satisfied with a slow pace, Pete set his electric scooter to high speed and gleefully terrorized pedestrians everywhere he went, including on trips with Jeanie and good friends to Paris, Tuscany, and Barcelona. And for years after he was confined to a wheelchair, friends would find inventive ways to hoist him into a kayak for moonlight paddling on the Oxbow. He also loved opera, theater, dance, and concerts of every kind, so he could often be found at the Center for the Arts, Jackson Hole Live, or the Music Festival. And he rarely missed a Sunday night at the Stagecoach Bar; he last “Roll[ed] Down the Line” in his wheelchair only a couple of weeks before he died.
Ironically, one of the joys of Pete’s life was getting to know his caregivers—remarkable individuals who became much-loved friends. The family thanks them all.
Pete lived life fully and well. His friends and family will cherish his memory as a loving husband, father, and mentor; as a gentle, wise, witty, and faithful friend; as a believer in rational discourse and social justice; and as a gentleman of the old school.
A celebration of Pete’s life will take place in the coming months. For more pictures of Pete, go to http://www.valleymortuaryjackson.com. Memorial donations may be made to Teton Adaptive Sports, tetonadaptivesports.com, Jackson Hole Therapeutic Riding, https://jhtra.org/donate/give-where-needed-most/, or CityKids Wilderness Project, https://citykids.networkforgood.com/.
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