Peter S. Buck ’52, H’08 died on November 18, 2021, in Danbury, Connecticut
(The following was provided by the Maine Sunday Telegram on November 21, 2021)
DANBURY, Conn. – Dr. Peter Buck, co-founder of the Subway chain of restaurants passed away on Nov. 18, 2021.
Peter Buck was born in Portland on Dec. 19, 1930, to Ervin and Lillian Bernice “Molly” (Draper) Buck. He grew up on a large farm in South Portland that raised crops in the field and in greenhouses. Peter and his younger brother David retained fond memories of long days planting, cultivating, and picking lettuce, squash, celery, and other crops. In their later years, they would reminisce about getting up early on Sunday mornings to cut 900 heads of lettuce and pack 50 crates, only to have their father say, “let’s get 50 more.”
His father could trace his family back to plow maker William Buck, who arrived in Massachusetts in 1635. His mother became a journalist at the Portland Press Herald, where she worked for Ernest Gruening.
Molly Buck was determined that her sons would attend college. Peter Buck graduated from South Portland High School in 1948 and entered Bowdoin College as the first in the family to pursue a college education. He was a member of Alpha Tau Omega, the studious fraternity on campus. He excelled in the sciences at Bowdoin, and upon graduation in 1952 he was admitted to the graduate program in physics at Columbia University. He pursued a course in nuclear physics, studying under Professor Charles H. Townes, who invented the maser and the laser. With the supervision of Dr. Isidor Isaac Rabi, the 1944 Nobel Laureate in Physics, he completed his doctorate dissertation on the Hyperfine Structure of Potassium 39 in the 4P State.
In 1957 he went to work for General Electric at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Schenectady, N.Y. There, he performed tests and calculations on atomic power plants being developed for U.S. Navy submarines and surface ships. In 1965 he joined United Nuclear, in White Plains, N.Y., calculating the power distribution and refueling requirements of nuclear power plants. He finished his engineering career at Nuclear Energy Services in Danbury, Conn.
While he pursued his work in nuclear physics, he initiated a second career track that began when a friend’s son, Fred DeLuca, asked him what he should do to earn some money for college.
Dr. Buck answered, “Open a sandwich shop.”
Since his childhood visits to Amato’s Italian sandwich shop in Portland, he had recognized the profit to be made by offering good, simple, inexpensive food. While he knew it was a good idea, he was amazed when Fred DeLuca called the next day to say he had found a location for a shop.
Dr. Buck invested the funds to outfit the small storefront in a strip mall, and even contributed his own kitchen table. On August 28, 1965, they opened Pete’s Super Submarine Sandwiches on Main Street in Bridgeport, Conn., announcing: “At last—it’s here—Bridgeport’s first super submarine sandwich. The biggest, tastiest treat ever.” For 69 cents one could buy a mixed cold cuts sub, with “11 tasty ingredients. Served on a long 12 inch roll topped with Pete’s secret salad dressing.” Dr. Buck remembered cutting vegetables all day, selling all 312 of their rolls, and sitting contentedly on the curb at closing, congratulating each other on a great first day for a good idea.
Based on their initial success, Dr. Buck and Fred DeLuca planned a chain of 32 restaurants. Dr. Buck provided oversight while Fred managed daily operations. By the early 1970s they had simplified the name to Subway and adopted the franchising business model. With its emphasis on fresh ingredients in made-to-order sandwiches, Subway was positioned to benefit from the shift toward healthier fast-food eating. Now, Subway is the world’s largest restaurant chain, with locations in more than 100 countries.
Through his Aunt Stella Draper, Peter Buck met Haydee Pinero, the daughter of Jesus T. Pinero, the first native governor of Puerto Rico. They married in 1955 and had three children, Kenneth, Christopher, and Cynthia.
In 1977, Dr. Buck married for the second time to Carmen Lucia Passagem. They settled in Danbury, Conn., where their son, William, was born.
They established the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation in 1999. With its guiding purpose statement, “Giving Motivated People the Tools They Need to Help Themselves,” the foundation supports several areas of family interest, especially initiatives in K-12 education, and community and senior citizen issues in Danbury, Conn. A quiet and generous individual, Dr. Buck personally made major donations to the Smithsonian Institution, where he served as a trustee of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, to Danbury Hospital, to Bowdoin College, and to many other organizations.
Dr. Buck had a lifelong interest in aviation. His former brother-in-law, Jose Pinero, introduced him to soaring, and for many years he owned and piloted a glider and remained an active member and supporter of the Soaring Society of America and the Valley Soaring Club.
Dr. Buck was predeceased by former wife, Haydee and their children Kenneth and Cynthia; and by his wife, Carmen.
He is survived by his sons Christopher and William, daughters-in-law Hara and April; and grandchildren Samuel, Emily, James, Simon, and Oliver Buck; by his brother, David and sister-in-law Barbara, and their children Michael and Denise Buck; by his sister-in-law, Vera Lourenco and her husband Manuel Lourenco; and by many extended family members in the U.S. and in Brazil.
Dr. Buck summed up his success with Subway simply: “if you work hard and live up to your own high standards, you’ll likely be rewarded, perhaps in unexpected ways.”