1970s county leader Ernest P. “Pete” Luke dies at 92

From staff and contributed reports
Ernest P. “Pete” Luke, who played a major role in modernizing Rappahannock County’s government and setting land use policies in the 1970s to preserve its rural character, died Feb. 24. He was 92.

File photo of Pete Luke at a regional planning meeting in 1973.

Luke was appointed to the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors in 1973 to fill a vacancy representing the Piedmont District. He served two additional four-year terms and was elected chairman in 1974.

During his tenure, the county adopted subdivision and zoning ordinances to limit development.

“He was not influenced by any faction or group or organization. He was above all that,” recalled Diane Bruce, retired clerk of the Rappahannock Circuit Court.

“Colonel Luke worked easily with everyone and was the most fair-minded, even-handed, warm and honest person with whom I ever worked,” Bruce added. “He tackled all issues with grace and aplomb, yet he was just plain ‘Pete’ to everyone and to himself.”

Luke also served as a member of the Sperryville Rescue Squad and the county planning commission.

He was a member of the U.S. Air Force for 30 years and retired as a colonel in 1972. He and his wife, Joy, retired to a house outside Sperryville they had bought in 1960.

Luke was born in Washington, D.C. on May 12, 1918, to Ernest and Georgina Luke, British immigrants. He was raised in Newport News.

Luke worked manual labor jobs and his father cashed in his life insurance policy to support his son’s ambitions to be an engineer. Luke graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1942.

Luke in 1943 in Orlando, Fla. Photo courtesy of the family.

He joined the Army Air Corps during World War II and was assigned to the 422nd Night Fighter squadron. While training in Florida, he met Joy Turner and they married in November, 1943.

Luke received the Bronze Star for his military service. After the war, he returned to VPI and earned a degree in aeronautical engineering and later a master of business administration degree from the University of Chicago.

For the next 25 years, he advanced through the aerospace research and development commands of the Air Force.

Luke is survived by his wife of 67 years, Joy Turner Luke of Sperryville; his sons: Peter H. Luke and wife Sharon of Sperryville, and Kim P. Luke and wife Betty of Potomac, Md., four grandchildren and one great -grandson. He is also survived by his brother, Frederick Luke, and sister, Marjorie Ramsey, of Newport News.

He was predeceased by his sister, Hilda Porter.

His ashes will be buried at the National Cemetery in Culpeper and a memorial service will be held May 28 at a location in Rappahannock County to be determined.

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