Walter Edward Hanson, the former chairman of Peat Marwick International, a predecessor firm of KPMG, passed away at his home in Newport Beach, Calif., at the age of 84.

Hanson was the first chairman of Peat Marwick International, which merged with Klynveld Main Goerdeler in 1987 to form KPMG. He was elected chairman of the audit, tax and advisory firm at the age of 39, and served in that role until his retirement in 1980. He subsequently served on the boards of a number of companies. A longtime member of the board of trustees at Lafayette College, Hanson also was one of America’s top sailboat racers.

During a career that spanned more than 23 years, Hanson, who died Sept. 24, was widely regarded and admired for his business insight and determination by both his colleagues and clients. He became the first chairman of Peat Marwick International in 1978. Hanson joined Peat Marwick in 1957 as a partner-in-charge of its transportation practice, later as partner-in-charge of the New York office, and was elected chairman of the U.S. firm at the age of 39, serving in that role from 1965 until his retirement in 1980.

He was born on Oct. 17, 1925, in Adelphia, N.J. After serving with the U.S. Naval Air Corps, he graduated from Lafayette College in 1949. He became a CPA and joined the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway Co., where he rose to the position of Vice President and Comptroller. 

Numerous academic and civic honors were conferred upon Hanson. He served as a member of the Board of Trustees at Lafayette College for 18 years, nine of those as chairman. The firm established an endowed chair at Lafayette in his honor in 1984. In June 1977, he received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Lafayette.  In 1979, the Citizens Union of New York City presented him their Distinguished Service Award.

Hanson served for 15 years as a member of the board of governors of the United Nations Association of the USA. He was a member of the Advisory Council of both the Harvard Business School and the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He also served as a member of the Board of Visitors of the Graduate School of Management-UCLA and Duke University Business School.

Following his retirement in 1980, he served as a member of the boards of directors of many companies, including CIGNA Corp, Fidelity Investments, Chesebrough-Ponds, and Insurance Company of North America. Hanson was founding Chairman of the Maritime Center in Norwalk, Conn. In 1983, Hanson was awarded the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the profession’s highest honor.

Commemorating Walter Hanson’s contributions, KPMG created the Walter E. Hanson Award in 2003 to recognize and honor a KPMG partner for delivering exemplary client service, providing visionary leadership and displaying the highest standards of integrity.
Hanson was one of America’s top sailboat racers. He raced for many years on Long Island Sound and along the East Coast. He twice won the Marblehead-Halifax Race and was the Northern Ocean Racing Circuit winner. In addition, he was a member of the New York Yacht Club and served for many years on its Board of Trustees.

Hanson is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, children Katharine (Greg Hurray), Elizabeth (Edward) Lawlor, and Barbara (Samuel) Maropis; grandchildren Jeffrey Hurray and Matthew, Abigail, and Casey Lawlor; a sister, Emma Freeman and brother, Irwin.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association and/or Lafayette College.

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