Elizabeth Brown Peelle, Oak Ridge

Elizabeth Brown Peelle, age 89, died peacefully in her home on April 6, 2022, due to complications of dementia.

Elizabeth is lovingly remembered for her steadfast commitment to social and environmental justice, her keen eye for birds and wildflowers, tireless work building community connections, her sense of humor, and forward-thinking actions for our precious planet.

Elizabeth, known to many as Liz, Beth, or Betsy, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on June 3, 1932, to Irwin Cuyler Brown & Flora Keller Brown. Her father was a Milwaukee police officer, who often worked the night shift, and her mother was a retired school teacher/principal who was active at her Lutheran Church. She excelled in school where she played viola in the orchestra. She was a star pupil in her catechism class. She adored her younger brother and defended him fiercely from neighborhood bullies. Summers found her working at an uncle’s small farm near Albany, WI. There she proved that a “city girl” could drive a draft horse, shovel manure, and survive outhouse pranks like a local!

After high school, Elizabeth attended Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio on a full scholarship. She flourished in the rich academic environment, was class president her senior year, and made lifelong friends. She graduated with a B.A. in chemistry in 1954.

She moved to Oak Ridge to work at the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant (K-25) performing low-temperature gas absorption studies, where she lived in a WWII-era women’s dormitory near Jackson Square. Bob and Elizabeth were introduced by a mutual friend in Oak Ridge and married in 1955, at her alma mater. Finding limited opportunities for women to advance in chemistry at K-25, she changed careers, earning a master’s degree in sociology at the University of Tennessee Knoxville in 1964. Beginning in 1970, Elizabeth was a research staff member in the Environmental Analysis and Assessment section of the Energy Division at Oak Ridge National Lab. She helped pioneer the use of Social Impact Assessment in the siting of noxious facilities, including nuclear power plants, and radioactive and chemical waste repositories. Over her 37 years at ORNL, her work involved the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident (1979) and extended into researching community and government acceptance of alternate energy sources and biofuel development. Her research has been published in several professional journals, and she presented her work at numerous national, professional, and academic forums.

Elizabeth was named Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1986. She received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Miami University in 1990. Additional professional honors include: Association for Women in Science East TN Chapter Leadership Award (1998), Distinguished Leader and Mentor Award (1988), and the Award for Applying Sociology by the Society for Applied Sociology (1988).

In Oak Ridge, the Peelles raised their two daughters and became deeply involved in the social, political, and environmental life of their community. Elizabeth was known for contacting scores of Oak Ridge and Roane County residents to inform, find volunteers, and garner support for ballot issues, candidates, and causes over the decades, including organizing Bob’s five successful non-partisan runs for Roane County Commission. They were members of Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church for over 55 years. Elizabeth served on the Board of Trustees and was Board President in 1956, when the congregation built their first permanent building at Robertsville Road and the Oak Ridge Turnpike. She helped design and implement a plan for the racial desegregation of Oak Ridge (1956-1968), serving as a board member and then chairperson of the Community Relations Council — Oak Ridge’s first interracial organization. In 1966, she was a founding member of Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning which works to preserve natural areas. Between 1964-1972, Elizabeth served as a board member and then president of Planned Parenthood of the Southern Mountains. In that role, she helped develop and implement a program of rural healthcare and family planning services in a 10-county area of Appalachia.

In 1980, she was instrumental in marshalling support and securing both private and City funding for a greenbelt area within western Oak Ridge. She served on the Committee of 50 which addressed the City’s need for growth and improved municipal structure. In 1986, she initiated Oak Ridge Citizens for Higher Education which successfully worked to retain Roane County Community College in Oak Ridge. Elizabeth was a founding member and early president of Tennesseans for Choice which advocated for reproductive freedom. In 2012, she used $14 from a reverse offering at the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church to purchase fresh fruit for students in a local after-school program. This grew into Fresh Fruit for Kids which continues to provide fruit to local children of food-insecure families.

Elizabeth was recognized for her community service with several awards: American Association of University Women “Women of Impact” in Oak Ridge (1993), YWCA Tribute to Women (1998), Lockheed Martin, ORNL, “Vision & Perseverance towards improving community quality of life” (1999), and UT Battelle, ORNL, Lifetime Achievement in Community Service (2001).

Elizabeth is preceded in death by her devoted husband of 63 years, Robert William Peelle (1929-2018), and brother Richard Irwin Brown (1934-2007). She is survived by her daughters, Evelyn Peelle (Gary Jerauld) of Houston, TX, and Annette (Eric) Sargent; and grandson William Sargent of Birmingham, MI. Loved ones also include the wife and children of her brother Richard (Marina) Brown, Lara Brown (John Wakeman), and Marco Brown (Ellen Rowe). Also beloved are the children of her late brother-in-law Harold (Faithe) Peelle, David (Baiba) Peelle, Kathy Douds, Karyl (Tony) Petruccione, Doug (Darla) Peelle, Karen (Tim) Stone, Tina Onion, and Derek Peelle.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions to Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning Peelle Memorial Fund, at TCWP- Peelle Memorial Fund or by mail PO Box 6873, Oak Ridge TN 37831.

A memorial service to celebrate Elizabeth’s life will be held at Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church, 809 Oak Ridge Turnpike, on May 28, 2022, at 10:30 am. The family invites attendees to wear purple, her favorite color. A reception will follow. Online condolences may be left at weatherfordmortuary.com.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Elizabeth, please visit our floral store.

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