Margie McNally Petersen, lifelong philanthropist, wife of the late publishing magnate Robert E. Petersen and co-founding benefactor of Southern California’s Petersen Automotive Museum, passed away peacefully at her home in Beverly Hills, California, on the evening of November 25, 2011. Her passing was due to a long and valiant battle with breast cancer. She was 76.
A beautiful and active lady, Mrs. 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 under contract with MGM.
She was married to Robert E. Petersen, founder and chairman of the board of Petersen Publishing Co., who 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, she donated to the Petersen Automotive Museum their car collection, the building that houses the museum and a monetary gift totaling $100 million.
Together, the Petersens owned the famous Scandia Restaurant, located on the Sunset strip, and Petersen Galleries 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 and Childhelp U.S.A., and she 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, California. 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 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 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 inhouse design firm for Petersen Publishing, where she was instrumental in furnishing the office buildings. She helped design the beautiful mission-style 16,000-sq.-ft. 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.