Those who knew and worked with longtime North Dakota Auditor Robert “Bob” W. Peterson say he was a man whose name was synonymous with integrity.

Peterson died Wednesday in Bismarck of cancer. He was 84.

Peterson was elected to his first term as state auditor in 1972 and re-elected until he retired in 1996.

“He was clearly a principled man if ever there was one,” said Wayne Sanstead, former state superintendent of public instruction.

Sanstead said Peterson was that rare public servant who managed to keep politics out of the day-to-day operation of the auditor’s office.

Sanstead, a Democrat, Peterson, who was a Republican, gained the respect and admiration of those from both sides of the political aisle.

“We had many years of shared leadership,” Sanstead said. “There was a trust factor there ... his leadership made a difference,” Sanstead said. “We lost a great leader.”

Gov. Jack Dalrymple called Peterson an outstanding public servant.

“Betsy and I were very saddened to hear that Bob Peterson has left us,” Dalrymple said. “Bob was a good man and a good public servant. He served our state with dedication. Our prayers are with his wife, Beverly, his entire family and his many friends.”

Rod Backman, former director of the state Office of Management and Budget, remembered Peterson as a down-to-earth, friendly person who brought professionalism to his office.

“It’s was something beyond work ethic,” Backman said. “He treated everyone with respect.”

Backman, a one-time candidate for state office, said Peterson gave him some sage advice on running for office.

“Name recognition,” Backman said. “He told me to walk up and down the streets of all the small towns and just talk to people.”

For Peterson, it was a winning formula. He was elected as a state representative from District 1 and served the Williston area in that capacity until 1972, when he ran for state office.

Peterson was re-elected for six consecutive terms as state auditor.

Gordy Smith worked alongside Peterson in the state auditor’s office for close to 20 years.

He said Peterson led by example, was always willing to listen to people and differing viewpoints, was statesman-like in his approach to heading a state office and emphasized consistency in the auditor’s office.

“All of the agencies respected him,” Smith said, as did those who worked for him. “He was a boss everybody would like to have.”

Smith said Peterson also was a humble man who talked little about his past successes, one of which was coaching NBA hall of famer Phil Jackson to a state high school basketball championship at Williston.

Smith said while Jackson was coaching the Chicago Bulls, Peterson attended a game with members of that championship team for a reunion.

“I told Bob my daughter was a huge Michael Jordan fan,” Smith said, and Peterson returned with an autographed game program for his daughter.

“I really respected the man,” Smith said.

Peterson’s son, Robert R. Peterson, succeeded him as state auditor.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Monday at the Baptist Home in Bismarck and at 2 p.m. at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Bismarck.

Military graveside services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery, Mandan.

Further arrangements are pending with Parkway Funeral Service, Bismarck.

Reach reporter Brian Gehring 250-8254 or brian.gehring@bismarcktribune.com.