Peter Scholtes

Posted on July 11, 2009  Comments (29)

photo of George Box, John Hunter and Peter Scholtesphoto of (from right to left) Peter Scholtes, John Hunter and George Box in Madison, Wisconsin at the 2008 Deming Conference

Peter Scholtes died peacefully this morning in Madison, Wisconsin. His family was with him.

My father wrote about the First Street Garage project in W. Edwards Deming’s Out of the Crisis (pages 245-247). Peter (who was working for the City of Madison at the time) and he became good friends working on that project together. Peter went to work for Joiner Associates afterwards and was a primary author of the Team Handbook. And Peter spent many years working with Dr. W. Edwards Deming and moving forward Dr. Deming’s ideas.

I would meet with Peter when consulted in Washington DC (which he did a good deal) and when I would visit Madison. He was extremely funny, compassionate, competent and effective. It was always a joy and educational to spend time with him. His Leader’s Handbook is the first management book I recommend to anyone. Peter enriched my life and the lives of many of others. And he will continue to do so through his works and those who were influenced by him.

Peter was a great friend and a wonderful person to talk with. I valued our shared interest in improving people’s lives by improving the practice of management. Peter was a priest before moving into management improvement. He retained his focus on helping people lead rewarding lives as a consultant. And we shared the desire to make the huge amount of time people spend working a much more rewarding experience. Making progress in that vein requires not just a wish to do so but the ability to learn and effectively apply ideas to affect real improvement. He was exceptionally gifted at this difficult task and was aided here, as with most things he did, by his considerable empathy and respect for others. His books provide evidence of this gift and effort. And those who were lucky enough to hear him speak enjoyed his ability to use humor to great affect in the effort.

In one of his last speeches, for example, when he speaking at the Deming conference (where the photo was taken) he used the action of kissing to underscore a point he was making about systems thinking and he described the challenges of gathering accurate data by recounting a radio interview he had heard about a research scientist who, in order to accurately assess the hibernation activities of bears, had to discretely sneak up on them during hibernation and well… take their temperatures in a non-genteel way.

I am very lucky to have developed friendship’s with several of my father’s friends. The photo shows me with two during my last visit to Madison: Peter and George Box.

It was a happy surprise when I found out Peter Scholtes wrote They Will Know We are Christians by our Love (link to a nice mp3 recording of the song). I think it is a wonderful song. Here are the words to that song (and a webcast is below):

We are one in the spirit we are one in the Lord
We are one in the spirit we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity will one day be restored

And they’ll Know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land.

We will work with each other we will work side by side
We will work with each other we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride

All praise to the father from whom all things come
And all praise to Christ Jesus his only son
And all praise to the spirit who makes us one.


Peter Scholtes died peacefully the morning of July 11, 2009. His family was with him. The past few months he suffered several strokes. A memorial service will be held in the next few weeks.

Related: Peter R. Scholtes talks about about being a priest on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s, working with Dr. Martin Luther King and moreReward and Incentive Programs are Ineffective — Even HarmfulASQ Deming Medal to Peter Scholtesposts related to Peter Scholtes

More performances of They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love.

29 Responses to “Peter Scholtes”

  1. Frank Roche
    July 11th, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    It's a sad passing, John. I admired Scholtes and his work work very much.

  2. Justin Hunter
    July 11th, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

    I knew Scholtes less well than you but well enough to see that he was a truly special man who had a real ability to really touch people. Thank you for writing this blog post and embedding the video to his song. In listening to his song again, I was struck by his lyrics:

    “We will work with each other we will work side by side,
    We will work with each other we will work side by side,
    And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.”

    It is clear that his “Priest and Christian song writer” career chapter and his “management consultant” career chapter chapter were heavily influenced by this principle.

    – Justin

  3. John Dowd
    July 12th, 2009 @ 4:25 am

    Peter was a good friend and over the years we shared many times together.

    He and I first became friends at the first Deming seminar for statisticians in Plymouth MI (If I recall). It was around 1981 or 1982. It was a real Who’s Who of Industrial Statisticans: Bill Hunter, Stu Hunter, Tom Boardman, Ron Moen, I think Dave Chambers was there as well….my memory of the event is hazy. I was there with my boss, Lloyd Nelson and Peter was there with his boss Brian Joiner. He and I hit it off immediately and we spent hours talking on breaks and dinner, etc. This was even before he had written the Team Handbook.

    For a while I worked for Joiner Associates and gave public seminars and consulted with some of their key clients. I got to know both Peter and Brian very well. The relationship I had with Joiner Associates changed and I left to go out on my own. I missed much of the crew there, but especially Peter. He was a delight to know.

    After that our contacts were sporadic. Our paths crossed again in England for a big Seminar in the QE2 Center and we once again had a chance to talk. We also once co-taught a session at the American Statistical Association meetings that were held in San Francisco – I don’t remember the year.

    At one point we decided that we would sponsor a joint conference to teach statisticians about human behavior and theories of change and to teach OD professionals about tools and techniques and their application. So we did and for three years a seminar “Teaming for Quality” was planed and executed by he and I working basically alone. It was a blast.

    The last time we met face to face was at Dr. Deming’s memorial service. I remember he and I shared a pew with Henry Neave and Don Wheeler. I remarked to Peter that it was a miracle that the pew didn’t plunge through the floor due to the weight on it. He thought was hilarious.

    After that he went his way and I went mine and our contacts were limited to once a year phone calls. We would talk forever about everything from who was who in quality, to theology, philosophy science, etc. It was always a treat. I shall miss him.

    His contribution cannot be replace

  4. Lynda Finn
    July 12th, 2009 @ 2:54 pm

    The world lost a great man yesterday. Peter always had a way of believing in and bringing out the good in every person around him. He will be forever remembered for making the workplace a better place to inhabit. I am indebted to him both professionally and personally in so many ways. Thanks for the learnings and the good times Peter.

  5. Mike Garcia
    July 13th, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

    When I organized the first State Quality seminar in the city of Queretaro, Peter Scholtes came to my mind, unfortunately, he couldn’t make it. Kelly did it. very successfully anyway. he wrote me a letter explaining the situation, he said I’ll send my best man, his legacy will keep him alive forever, when I hear one of my favorite country songs (O lord is hard to be humble , Mike Davis), it seems to me that was not written for persons like Peter, he was like the bread, you can not live without it.
    Mike Garcia
    from Mexico

  6. Barb Hummel
    July 13th, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

    Thanks so much for this wonderful tribute to Peter, a man I considered an important mentor and dear friend. When I was at MAQIN, Peter offered to put on our first full-day seminar about the case against performance appraisal, which proved to be a provocative and lively seminar. And, in our planning I talked with him about his honorarium, to which he replied, “I don’t want one. Please use any money you make on the seminar to grow MAQIN.” Over the years we did many things together. I could recount story after story, each with the constant theme of wanting to make a contribution to the situation at hand. Even after his stroke he responded with grace, working with other rehab patients to give them hope and help them improve their personal lives as best they could. I loved that twinkle in his eye. I loved his sense of humor. I enjoyed it when he’d sing fragments of songs, or share songs he’d written. I loved watching his delight with his two grandchildren. He lived an authentic, loving life. I feel blessed to have had him as a close friend, and I will treasure the many conversations — serious and silly– that I had with him.

  7. Lara Lebeiko
    July 14th, 2009 @ 5:03 am

    Peter was such a wonderful person. He impacted his world around him. And he always made us smile. A spitfire of a guy, with great character and intelligence. I am honored to have known him.

  8. Sheri Marshall
    July 14th, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

    I met Peter while helping out with Deming Seminars and OPQF (Ohio Productivity and Quality Forum) seminars in the early 90’s. What a wonderful soul. I learned so much from him!! I didn’t know he wrote that song — my sons just learned it last week at bible camp. It’s even more special now.

  9. Kelly Allan
    July 15th, 2009 @ 8:47 am

    Peter was one of the most important people in my life –and still is for that matter because of the many profound gifts of spirit and intellect he gave to me –and to us all. I had the great pleasure to talk with Peter about every two weeks during the past decade. His unflagging interest in improving the world, his outrage with injustice, and his sense of humor were a part of almost every conversation.

    Many people have written to me with comments. Here is a selection:

    –What a wonderful man.
    –GOD help heaven with Scholtes and Deming both there now!
    –What a great guy!
    –I’m so glad I got a chance to meet him and learn from him.
    –What a champion he was.
    –A great man in so many ways, and I didn’t know him except through his books and you.
    –Brilliant man. We are reading THE LEADER’S HANDBOOK. The world needs more people like Peter.
    –I have used the advice from his books so often in the past few years. What insight he had.

  10. David Couper
    July 16th, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

    I was saddened to hear of Peter’s death as I am sure you all were. At the same time, I was happy to have known Peter and to have recently introduced him to a very dear friend of mine, Adrian Ward, a retired police commander from Scotland.

    Adrian came to Madison earlier this year with the hope of meeting Peter and attending the recent Deming conference. As you know, Adrian and Peter were able to meet each other.

    Perhaps these are times for reflection.

    Looking back, I have known Peter now for over 30 years. We first met , I remember, when Peter was doing OD (Organizational Development) work for the city. I think Paul (Mayor Soglin) brought Peter into city government for this purpose.

    Then, as I recall, we got together again in the early 80s as the Quality Movement came about and that national TV documentary about Dr Deming: “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?” was aired.

    In Madison, we developed collaboration between public and private sectors through MAQIN (The Madison Quality Improvement Network) and Peter and the Joiners began working together, Dr Deming came a number of times to Madison and a Bright Shining Light shone for a few years as we all experienced the headiness of the possibility of quality methods being used by government (and police!).

    When Paul came back into city government as Mayor, and the city was deeply involved in QI, I remember a meeting we put together with Paul and Dr Deming — as I recall I was there with Peter and Myron Tribus trying to convince Paul that he should continue to efforts his predecessor, Joe Sensenbrenner, had initiated. Alas!

    Nevertheless, Peter continued with the noble quest of improving things and to this we are all grateful and thankful to him. As Peter went from priest to consultant during his life, I went from police chief to priest.

    We continued to run into one another fondly remembering those early days with the city of Madison, our times with Dr Deming and the great possibility and potential of continuous improvement in society.

    But I will remember Peter throughout the coming years (as I did in my seminary and parish days) each time I hear his wonderful song (probably many of you did not know this about Peter!) — he wrote the ever-popular hymn, “You Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love.”

    Godspeed Peter and thank you for have been in my life!

    The Rev. David C. Couper, Episcopal Priest
    and Madison Chief of Police (1972-1993)

  11. Steve Byers
    July 21st, 2009 @ 10:27 pm

    I learned more from Peter Scholtes than from anyone else, and I'm not finished yet.

  12. John Hampton Jr.
    July 24th, 2009 @ 10:50 am

    Earlier today I learned of Mr. Scholtes demise after quoting his song in a comment I had made on a news web site. After quoting the song “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love”, I started thinking, “I should look up the author of that song and thank him for the MANY times I have used it for comfort and rebuke. I was stunned to find out I was a little too late to thank him. Tears welled in my eyes and I cannot explain the pain I felt. As a young man going to church in the late 60’s and early 70’s, we were taught that Love, above all else, defined us as a Christian. These were the days I spent of my youth in Glasgow Kentucky, where we learned a gentle form of Christianity. I remember a neighbor lady, Ginnie Carter, who lived a couple of houses down from us, who used to have a motorcycle-riding group of youth from Asbury Seminary come to visit her from time to time. They would have a small fire in the back yard or at the park, and I was allowed to go and sit around the camp fire with them and sing songs. In 1969 I was only 10 years old but it was a very small town and the streets were safe. I was always allowed to walk to church or go see friends, and we went to church 3-4 times a week. This song was always my favorite! We sang it at Bible Camp and Vacation Bible School. It has always been with me when I have to check myself to see if I am acting like a Christian. I may be rambling or getting off the point I was trying to make, but this is just a hard post for me. I’d just say that the song personifies everything I have always expected a Christian to be.

    I’d like to express my condolences to the family and friends who knew Mr. Scholtes, and I will keep you in my prayers also. Also, Thank You to Kelly Allan, who answered my phone message ASAP, while he probably wondered who this person was rambling so on the phone. I am still sitting here with wet eyes, wishing I could have thanked Mr. Scholtes myself, but I also know that somewhere, somehow, he knows how grateful I am for his words over the years!

    God Bless You All!
    John Hampton Jr.
    Lexington KY

  13. Rick Venet
    August 5th, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

    John,

    I was saddened to read about Peter Scholtes passing on your web site. Our thoughts and prayers go out his family and close friends. I have enjoyed reading and learned much from his books. I have passed on the reference materials to many others who have benefited from his and Dr. Demings knowledge, wisdom, theories and methods. He, and the leaders that have passed before him, will be missed.

    With deepest sympathy,
    Rick Venet
    President
    ROI Strategic Business Solutions
    Warren, Michigan

  14. Robin Kinsman
    August 10th, 2009 @ 12:21 am

    John,
    I learned They´ll Know We Are Christians when I was 9 yrs old in a church in Lima Peru. This song changed my life. Thanks for sharing more about the author, Peter Scholtes. I had no idea about who had written the song, and as a career development coach I will certainly read his work in management consultant and leadership.
    Regards,
    Robin Melina Kinsman
    Santiago Chile

  15. John Criqui
    August 21st, 2009 @ 9:33 pm

    John,

    I was doing some research today, which led me to your site and reading about Peter’s passing; the immediate sense of loss and sadness was overwhelming.

    I met Peter and Brian through the first PACE Quality Roundtable in Philadelphia, PA. in the mid-80’s; I was a member of the Microcircuit Engineering’s (MEC) leadership team. The experience, their mentoring and the opportunities they gave me to grow and learn over the next 3 years, changed my life and started me on a wonderful career in Quality. Peter was so generous with his counsel and knowledge. When the Team Handbook came out, he sent me an autographed copy and told me that he should have had me sign the inside front cover because of the case histories and tools he used in it, that I worked on with him and Brian through MEC and PACE. Then he surprised me even more by telling me to look at the exercise on Disruptive Group Behavior in the back; he had credited me in the book with developing it.

    Over the years, when he was in the Delaware Valley area, we would get together for dinner to talk about Quality, his latest projects, and what was going on in my life, these were very special times. When he was writing the Leader’s Handbook, he sent me drafts of the chapters to review, edit and provide feedback on, what an honor that was for me. I knew I could always count on Peter for a “glowing” reference during a job search, sometimes they were so good, it was embarassing, he was just that generous.

    After he retired I would call him just to talk, he always made me feel as if he were talking with his best friend, although you knew he had hundreds of “best friends”. I last spoke with Peter in early 2008 before the MAQIN conference, you don’t know how sorry I am that I missed it, and how much I will miss his warm and loving friendship.

    Sincerely,
    John Criqui
    Exec Dir. Quality
    Educational Testing Service

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  18. Sylvia Gillpatrick
    September 17th, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

    I only met Peter Scholtes once but his presence and his writings had a profound effect on my thinking. He was truly an extraordinary man. I work in K-12 education reform and often wish that Peter’s perspective had more influence as we grapple with teacher and student performance. It falls to the rest of us to carry on in his traditon with the same spirit. I am very sorry that I did not have the pleasure of knowing him personally, as many of you did. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones.

  19. Stuart Smith
    October 26th, 2009 @ 8:21 am

    John,

    To this day, I use the Team and Leaders' Handbooks as a foundation for my own leadership and management practices. My sympathy to all who knew, admired and loved him. Sorry for the delay in passing on my condolences.

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  21. jbbw
    February 27th, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

    "and they will know we are Christians by our love" IS THE INSPIRED WORD OF GOD more than anything else I have ever heard/felt.

  22. Marty MacDonald
    April 13th, 2010 @ 10:41 am

    I last saw and worked with Peter over 20 years ago when he consulted for SD Warren in Maine. Yesterday, I was working on a project and thought, I need “The Team Handbook”. I found it buried deep in the attic and I hold it in my hand now reading Peter’s dedication and signature dated 9/13/88. I’m sad to hear the world has lost this man who fundamentally changed my work and professional life in such a positive manner.

  23. hanching chung
    June 25th, 2010 @ 2:17 am

    Last month, Irealised Peter was dead.

    Tommorow we’ll have a small meeting to remember him in Taipei.

    We’ll have a special issue for him in our annual conference and book.

    Peter’s last book The Leader’s Handbook is a best selling book in Taiwan and China. I am very pleased he wrote me two letters to help me better understanding his points before the publishing Chinese version of it. Many of his readers agree it is a masterpiece. The leadership according to Peter’s is with love and healing power at least.

    I personally regretted I did not attend TWEDI’s Wisconsin conference in 2008. I wrote to Prof. Orsini to inquire Peter’s health condition then.

    An aspect of Peter’s character revealed in his writing and speeching (BDA’s booklet). He is our “leader” in this part of world. I miss him.

  24. Dave Carter
    July 21st, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

    I had known Peter was in poor health, but am saddened – even a full year later – to learn of his passing.

    Our large healthcare system sought Peter’s help in changing our approach to how we managed work. My most unforgettable workshop EVER was Peter and Alfie Kohn joining forces to shake a few minds. Many of us still reflect back on that workshop, and the prep sessions leading up to the workshop, with wonder – and plenty of laughter.

    I continue to use the Leader’s Handbook and the Team Handbook, and only wish I had known him even better. RIP Peter.

  25. Erie Haryanto
    December 6th, 2010 @ 7:32 am

    John, I was terribly shocked…….. I just ordered The Leader’s Handbook an hour ago from Amazon.com

    What’s on earth that made me unaware of Mr Scholtes’ passing more than one year later. I live in other side of USA, in Indonesia, thousands km away and I am a submitter (most people say I am a Muslim). But, yes, we are one in the Spirit.

    I miss Mr Scholtes but I am convinced that GOD only provides us, HIS servants, with the best things.

    Selamat Jalan dan Semoga Kita Bertemu, Bapak Scholtes (This is in Bahasa Indonesia, John. It means ” So long, till we meet again , Mr Scholtes)

  26. Saidul Rahman Mahomed
    February 23rd, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

    I´m really shocked to know that my good Christian friend pass away, only now. I had honour to publish both books into portuguese language and both becomes best-sellers. I had opportunity to bring him down to Brazil, once with Mary walton in 1991 to launch the PGQP- PROGRAMA GAUCHO DE QUALIDADE E PRODUTIVIDADE, nowadays one of the biggest state program in Q&P.
    We had marvelous time and lot of fun. He learns a lot about Islam, we had opportunity to talk firendly about our religions and believes.
    We had many good times with him, during his seminars and classes.
    SCHOLTES becomes well know in Brazil.
    May ALLAH bless him and all family, friends and followers.

    SAUDADES ETERNAS means that we never forget him!

    Saidul Rahman Mahomed
    editor of Qualitymark

  27. Pastor Curt
    April 4th, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

    Wow.. I just happened to stumble onto this page and read through this post. I was shocked to learn that this man was the writer of that awesome song!

    I remember singing this in church many years ago and never giving any thought to who might have written it.

    I had no idea that he had passed away, but I’m sure he will be missed by many.

    Great video, by the way.

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