The Passing of Pete Gunter

It is with great sadness that we note the passing of the Chair of the FPC Board, Pete A.Y. Gunter.

“Pete” Addison Yancey Gunter (1936-2024)

Pete Gunter

Pete Gunter was born in Hammond, Indiana on October 20, 1936, and passed away March 6, 2024, in Dallas. In between was a remarkable life and career of service, teaching, scholarship, music, and family life. The irony of being born in Indiana was never lost on this true son of Texas, so he got home as soon as he could (at age 10). “Pete” was a nickname, but that’s what everyone called him, the real name being shared with generations before him and not so easy to shorten. Pete’s colorful writings about Texas, both fiction and nonfiction, provide a clear picture of the deep roots and entanglements of the Gunter family with the Red River region. Pete’s family was among those who settled (some would say “invaded”) the region before and just after the Civil War. He was an amateur genealogist, gathering and propagating information about the Gunters for posterity. Pete finished high school in Gainesville, and then graduated from the University of Texas in 1958. From there he went to Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar, taking the BA in 1960 (the equivalent of our MA), and he completed his Ph.D. at Yale in 1963.

Pete taught at Auburn University 1963-65, and then at the University of Tennessee Knoxville from 1965-69. He marched with the Civil Rights marchers during his time in Alabama and Tennessee, a bold decision for those places and times. These assignments were preparation for his two great callings: the establishment of the Philosophy Department at the University of North Texas, and the designation of the Big Thicket as the nation’s first Biological Preserve. The first required a vision for a new kind of philosophy, built around ecological and environmental ideas. Over the decades it became possible for UNT to pioneer the interdisciplinary Ph.D. in environmental philosophy. But perhaps it is more important that Pete modeled the ideas being taught in his persistent activism, adding to the Big Thicket preserve, through politicking, lobbying, cajoling, persuading, fund-raising, and articulating the vision for what makes a biological preserve and integral ecosystem. Pete was always quick to credit others above himself for the work, but the truth is that the Big Thicket as it currently exists is Pete’s gift to Texas and the world. If a philosophy is valued based on the concrete difference it makes in the world, I know of no one who could claim to have lived to see greater results from a philosophical idea. The fruition of Pete Gunter’s vision came both academically and in changes to our laws, practices, and understanding of what is of value to our lives.

Pete’s scholarly work encompassed the full range of both philosophy and environmental science, from physics and biology to ethics and education. His work on Henri Bergson (1859-1941) made him the world’s leading expert on that great philosopher. Pete stayed abreast of developments in science and the philosophy of science and never doubted that in the end reductionist models would be replaced by more open process thinking. He followed the dictum that it is better to put forward that which is best in our thinking and to ignore that which is worst. Pete knew a dead end when he saw one, but did not think it was his job to point out the obvious. He edited and contributed to many books, and his list of refereed articles was very long. His single-authored books were not easy to classify, only one or two being of the ordinary scholarly variety. Add to these books about the Big Thicket, a novel that was thinly veiled autobiography, and a number of historical writings, and one has the compendium of a sort of Texas-style Renaissance man.

As a member of the profession of academic philosophers, Pete held many positions of importance and service, including his decades-long work with and for the Foundation for the Philosophy of Creativity, and its related Societies, which he served for half a century, most of it as Chair of the Board. He led in making judicious decisions about how to bring the Foundation’s resources to the best use to fulfill its mission. He was President of the Southwestern Philosophical Society (1978-79) and an active past president.

Music held a special place in Pete’s life, and I expect he is probably the only person who ever delivered a Presidential address for a serious philosophical society on guitar. Pete liked to write parody lyrics with philosophical themes to well-known show tunes, reminiscent of Tom Lehrer’s songs. But Pete also wrote ballads of his own telling stories of Texas and it many characters and the indignities and injustices they suffered. He wrote songs about the land and the forest, and also songs with a decidedly folk-style protest ring. He had a thin but pleasing bluesy voice, and I can still hear him singing the “Peloponnesian War Blues,” his Vietnam protest song:

Don’t wanna go down to Sparta, fight no Peloponnesian War

Yes I burned my toga, cause I don’t know what I’m fightin’ for

A buddy of mine got ninety-nine years, for burning a bunch of army surplus spears

Don’t wanna go down to Sparta, fight no Peloponnesian War


They say if you religious you’ll burn Old Sparta down

If you believe in Jesus, you’ll burn the Peloponnesus to the ground

Never made much sense to me, to kill for Christ in 399 BC

Don’t wanna go down to Sparta, fight no Peloponnesian War

This contains the greatest internal rhyme in the history of the blues –“Jesus” being not an easy word to rhyme. Pete was not very religious, unless one means his view of nature, and in that case he was religious indeed. But he was always willing to smile and keep his tongue when someone else was making a fool of himself about such matters. Pete wrote serious music as well, to the degree that seriousness could be tolerated.

If anything surpassed music among his avocations, it was storytelling. He had his favorites that one was likely to hear more than once, but he was always collecting more. He wasn’t given to drinking at all, due to a lifelong battle with diabetes, but when others were partaking, Pete often launched into stories and in the telling his pale blue eyes would flash and twinkle so that one might believe he had just enough of the firewater to channel a spirit or three. This magic is present in his fiction and near-fiction writing. If one knew his voice and style, reading his stories is a lively exercise in auditory imagination. You forget you’re reading.

Pete Gunter was devoted to his family, and is survived by spouse Liz and daughter Sheila. He was a loyal friend to countless lucky people, including the present writer for some 35 years, and will be sorely missed and lovingly remembered.

Randall Auxier, March 7, 2024

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