Peel, Jesse

PEEL, Dr. Jesse R.

On December 28, 2023, Dr. Jesse R. Peel moved from this earthly plane of existence to that of the loving God who created him. Jesse never recovered from complications due to a fall in his home. And while we are left with a profound sense of sadness, we are left with solid evidence of a life well-lived in service to others and to his Creator.

Jesse was born on March 8, 1940, in Everetts, North Carolina, and thus began a life marked by activism, advocacy, compassion and charity. Jesse was a friend to many and a stranger to none. He embraced his father's belief that East Carolina University represented the future of eastern North Carolina. That embrace would include scholarships and professorships in honor of his parents, J. Woolard and Helen Peel. (Jesse had the distinction of being a "limited edition," i.e., an only child!).

Jesse became "Doctor Peel" upon earning his MD from the UNC School of Medicine in 1965. He went on to serve in the Medical Corps of the United States Navy as a lieutenant. He did tours of duty in Vietnam and Japan. In 1976, Jesse accepted a position at a psychiatric facility in Atlanta, where he ultimately began an outpatient practice to treat men living with HIV/AIDS.

His commitment to serving the needs of others was marked by his leadership and membership on many non-profit boards of directors in Atlanta and financial support to many others. Among those boards are Actors' Express, Out Front Theater, AID Atlanta, Positive Impact, Atlanta Interfaith AIDS Network, the Atlanta Buyer's Club, The Atlanta Gay Men's Chorus, Lost-n-Found Youth, AIDS Legacy Project and The John Howell Park Project. Many of these were grassroots organizations intended to serve a community that was neglected and shunned by most of society.

Jesse's leadership in the early days of the AIDS epidemic in Atlanta is legendary. He was appointed to the first Governors Task Force on AIDS in 1984 when misinformation about the disease was rampant and direct dialogue between the gay community and government was scarce. As a respected psychiatrist and openly gay leader, Jesse bridged both worlds with true Southern candor. He went on to serve on the Advisory Committee of Atlanta's first AIDS Fund at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. Alicia Philipp, Former CEO of the Foundation stated "Jesse's legacy will live on in lives saved, changed and guided. What a difference he made!"

One of Jesse's proudest achievements took place on January 12, 2019, with the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ Center which marked the dedication of what is now the largest center of its kind in the 17-campus University of North Carolina system.

His love of the arts and entertaining was central to Jesse's life. His decades-long tradition of regularly scheduled summer afternoon gatherings around the pool resulted in the nickname of his home, "Camp Merton." He hosted countless committee and board gatherings and wonderful nights of piano music from classical to Broadway show tunes. Jesse was a master of connecting people and creating community of all kinds.

Jesse's many achievements are documented in the Rose Manuscript and Rare Book Library of Emory University. The collection covers 1956-2013 and includes correspondence, journals, photographs, albums, audiovisual materials, and the galley proofs of his memoir, The Camp Merton Chronicles. His dedication and service to the LGBTQ+ Community was honored by the Human Rights Campaign awarding him their Leon Allen and Winston Johnson Community Leadership Award in 2003. This recognition was, for him, a highlight among many others bestowed upon him by the community which loved him and which he served with distinction.

Jesse is survived by loving family, countless dear and close friends, and his beloved schnauzer, Minnie.

A funeral service for Jesse will be held in Atlanta on Saturday, January 27, 2024 at 2:00 PM, at St. Mark United Methodist Church, located at 781 Peachtree Street, NE, Atlanta, GA, 30308. Visitation will take place from 1:15 PM to 2:00 PM in the chapel prior to the service. A celebration of Jesse's life will take place at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, on Saturday, February 24, 2024 at 3 PM.

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Funeral Home Information

H.M. Patterson & Son-Oglethorpe Hill Chapel

4550 Peachtree Road Ne

Atlanta, GA