Peter Souza

Peter E. Souza

Thursday, September 7th, 1939 - Sunday, September 27th, 2020
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Bennington, VT

Peter Souza, who left the Provincetown he loved in 2006 with his wife Sheila Benzer, to a seek a new life where he could pursue his dreams with a modest income, died early Sunday on September 27 as he returned from feeding the horses and dogs on his farm. He was 81.

He “died in my arms,” said Benzer, who was joined with him since 1998.

Peter, who grew up in Provincetown, Cape Cod, Mass., worked as a fisherman and then for the department of public works. While working for the town, he broke his back and was in such pain from his injuries, he took to drink. But he gave alcohol up completely, with the help of friends, and lived from 1975 on without taking a drink.

“Peter was always kind, loving and generous to everyone,” Benzer said. “His greatest virtue was his love of our beautiful planet and all her species and the protection of them all.” "He helped many people through the 12 step recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous and as a drug and alcohol counselor, he saved my life and things he said to me years ago still influence my life today" says one dear friend and anonymous member."

One of his commitments was protecting the 47-acres of Clapps Pond from development, another was preserving the beauty of the town, and yet another preventing the abuse of animals, the poisoning of pigeons, poisoning of seagulls in Chatham, the shooting of crows, and protection of coyotes and wolves, whales, and mustangs. "He often walked with coyotes on his daily long walks in his beloved Clapps Pond and Provincelands." says Benzer.

He was a man of many causes, but he pursued change with a gentle determination. He had picket signs, he organized rallies, and he appeared before the selectboard and town meeting on many occasions to plead his causes.

He won election to the selectboard in 1995 , former chair of the 1995 Selectboard, Irene Rabinowitz recalls Souza fondly. “Over the years, when I was on the Selectboard, Peter could simultaneously cause frustration and make me laugh. His ability to push the envelope while advocating for the environmental issues he cared so much about, while keeping that engaging twinkle in his eye, always kept it civil. We butt heads a lot, but would sometimes just sit and laugh together.”

“I always looked forward to him coming back to public statements, knowing that he would push boundaries and do it in a way that would get our attention,” Rabinowitz said. "Peter never compromised his values or his beliefs. He was a true activist and a true son of Provincetown.”

Souza served on the conservation commission when Gordon Peabody chaired.

“Peter came to my attention when I read an article about him threatening to block a storm drain with concrete because it was discharging onto a beach,”Peabody said. “I remember thinking I can see someone being frustrated enough to do that.”

On the commission, “Peter was unapologetic about his unwillingness to compromise on environmental issues. I believe he became the voice for a lot of people who felt as he did”, Peabody said.

“When a project he disagreed with came before the commission, “he was honest and eloquent in his objections.”

Provincetown was the first town in the state to prohibit the use of exotic animals in circuses and parade. This was done by town meeting vote after Souza organized protests and marched with signs. The last circus at Motta Field that included a lion, a tiger, and elephants was at Motta Field in 2000. At one time, elephants marched down Commercial Street in parades. Souza felt the pain of these shackled animals and worked tirelessly to prevent their abuse. He filmed video of the elephants bleeding from bullhook abuse which he used successfully to get the elephants pulled from the circus forever.

Former Selectboard member Cheryl Andrews,said, “Often we focus on things in Provincetown that have changed,... in Peter’s case, we should notice things that have not changed.”

She recalled 20 years ago the Department of the Interior decided that Race Point Road should be “upgraded in thier words “modernized,” and ...Souza and most townspeople were adamently opposed to the plan which became more real when “hundreds of trees were marked with pink ribbons by the engineers for removal . People were very upset,” Andrews recalled.

“Peter led the way in making sure Seashore officials knew how far we were willing to go to protect what is a gorgeous, winding canopy of White Oak and beech trees. The plan was shelved and those trees stand today. That road is a gorgeous as ever, thanks to Peter Souza, his activism and leadership.”

Benzer states "Souza was interviewed on CNN standing on Race Point Road with a sign "not one more tree”. He protested there daily for weeks and many others joined him until the Seashore took notice and held a public meeting.

Peter influenced many people including Celene Gandolfo recalled seeing Souza handing out leaflets on Race Point Road, pointing out that 500 trees were proposed for destruction. “That got my attention,” she said.

“Peter was a hard-core activist for the preservation of things and places in Provincetown,” Rachel Peters said. “He deplored the ‘gentrification’ of the town, and left when it continued. Peter, you are still remembered for your single-handed fight with the Seashore to save that heavenly archway of trees on the road to the airport that would have been destroyed. Your civil disobedience was the saving grace for all of us.”

Peter was also known for his humorous satirical photo montages from his photographs of Provincetown that always had a message .

Souza planted hundreds of trees in Vermont, rescued and raised East German Shepherds on his farm, and also rescued 31 mustangs from kill pens, and found good homes for them.

Also he formed and led WWAG, “Wolf and Wildlife Action Group,” that protested at statehouses in wolf-killing states to stop their extermination. Shortly after several states banned the killing.

Darlene Abbott, who worked with him at WWAG, has set up a fund on Facebook to help Benzer maintain the farm.

The funeral service will be held Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020 at 10 a.m. at Sacred Heart Saint Francis Catholic Church, Main Street Bennington VT.

He leaves his bereaved wife Sheila Benzer and dear sister, Joan Cordeiro, of Provincetown, and his five children from his previous marriage, Maria Difabio , Henry Souza, Tim Souza, Joe Souza, and Peter Souza Jr.

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Service Details

  • Funeral

    Saturday, October 17th, 2020 | 10:00am
    Saturday, October 17th, 2020 10:00am
    Sacred Heart Saint Francis de Sales Church
    238 W. Main Street
    Bennington, Vermont 05201
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
    Rev. Robert Wiseman, c.s.c.


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