Margie Petersen, co-founding benefactor of the Petersen Automotive Museum, died Nov. 25 after a decades-long battle with breast cancer. The Los Angeles philanthropist and former model will be buried during a private service at 1 p.m. on Friday.
Peterson and her late husband, Robert, who passed away in 2007, were the founding benefactors of the automotive museum, donating millions of dollars to build and expand the operations. They also used their wealth to benefit many city organizations, such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
“It’s a sad day,” said Dick Messer, who previously directed the automotive museum for 12 years. “It’s the end of an era. There is a void there. There’s no question about it.”
Margie (McNally) Petersen was born and raised in New York, and appeared on hundreds of magazine covers, TV commercials and national advertisements as a model. She was also an actress and a former Miss Rheingold.
The late Robert Petersen, a publishing giant who created “Hot Rod” and “Motor Trend” magazines, met his future wife in her hometown. At the time, he was 36 years old and was “immediately smitten” by McNally, Messer said. He proposed on the first date.
“It was one of those Hollywood marriages that actually did last,” Messer said.
He said the two were a couple in every sense of the word. They were very loyal, and any time Robert Petersen made a public appearance, Margie was there as well, Messer said. He added that they frequently socialized in West Los Angeles and Hollywood.
Margie was always very involved in her husband’s business endeavors, whether it was furnishing the publishing company’s office buildings or designing the 16,000 square-foot terminal building for Petersen Aviation at Van Nuys Airport.
“They were always a pair,” Messer said. “She was involved in the business as a fashion influence, so to speak.”
Margie’s philanthropy included many organizations, including The Amazing Blue Ribbon of the Music Center, the Los Angeles Orphanage Guild, the League for Children, Childhelp U.S.A., Thalians Mental Health Clinic, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and more.
“Both were very grateful for their success,” Messer said.
He referenced the plane crash in 1975 that killed their two boys, who were 9 and 10 years old at the time. Messer said the two never conceived more children, but their philanthropy always connected to youth.
The educational component for children “was part of the motivation for them to get the museum started,” he added.
In 1994, the Petersens donated $5 million to Los Angeles County Natural History Museum to become the founding benefactors of the Petersen Automotive Museum. In 2000, they donated an additional $24.8 million and established a foundation to take over the museum as a nonprofit organization.
“Their legacy to Los Angeles and the rest of the United States is the Petersen Automotive Museum,” Messer said.
He said he got to know the Petersens professionally and socially through the museum.
“It was a very friendly, open relationship, and I’ll cherish that the rest of my life,” he said.
Buddy Pepp, the current director at the automotive museum, said Margie was still on the board of directors when she passed away. He said the board will eventually fill the seat, as the board is currently expanding from seven members to 15. Pepp said Margie made many contributions to the operations, even after her husband’s death.
“She was an absolute joy to work with,” he said. “She was a doer. She didn’t sit back and delegate.”
Pepp said that in the coming weeks, the museum will likely honor Margie “in more ways than one.” However, the museum’s operations are not likely to change in the near future, he said.
“We’re doing extremely well, as far as the museum is concerned,” Pepp said.
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