Tom Peters, a retired Corvette designer and Member of the Corvette Hall of Fame was inspired by his mother, a talented artist, to work in the design field. In honor of Mother’s Day, The National Corvette Museum asked Mr. Peters to recount memories of his mother, sharing this tribute.  


My mother, Mary Beth Van Kirk, was born in 1927 in Independence, Missouri, as the youngest of five, with three brothers and a sister. Her teen years were during the Second World War, which her brothers all fought in. I did not know all her interests growing up, but she must have had a wonderful artistic vision. I came to realize that in her many endeavors, such as raising a family, painting, fashion, home décor, and maintenance, she was incredibly capable and creatively self-sufficient. Mom was much more adept with tools than Dad, which I attribute to her growing up with three brothers. This was infectious and certainly had a powerful influence on our family. She was always our biggest supporter and contributor whether it was school projects, tree forts, bikes, or the infamous downhill racers. 

Neighborhood kids would roll side by side down our hill on Hamilton Street in what we thought were death-defying races. The objective was to knock each other off the road before reaching the bottom. I had switched the TV to the latest episode of Route 66. Todd and Buzz just pulled onto the racetrack to view the new ‘Stanglini’ race car as the iconic Nelson Riddle theme played in the background. The open-wheeled screamer was impressive, and so was the name, as a car-crazy 10-year-old, I was inspired. Mom was always poised to help me and my four siblings with our crazy projects, like when I worked with old Radio Flyer parts, scrap lumber from nearby construction sites, and bike parts to construct a four-wheeled contraption that would become my next downhill racer. On one side of our racetrack was a concrete culvert, and on the other, a swampy ditch. After climbing from the wreckage, we packed mud on our wounds and headed back up the hill for another run. I am not sure Mom knew exactly what we were up to, but they were good times.

Growing up in Minnesota was a wonderful experience, with endless lakes and woods to explore, there was no shortage of adventures or projects for us to embark upon. My siblings all spun within unique orbits, but Mom was able to manage everyone without nannies or tutors, and no second car, seeing as my father traveled for weeks at a time for business. 

Most, if not all, car designers and engineers built model cars and airplanes when they were young, and I was no exception. I recall working on the dining room table, gluing and painting. Mom was okay with this if there was a newspaper underneath our work. Of course, I did spill occasionally, but she would respond with words of caution and tips for prevention. Mar, as we kids began to lovingly call her, seemed to understand our wide scope of interests during our teen years. I would collaborate with my buddies on engines, painted cars, and motorcycles in our carport! Her positive disposition gave me the confidence to explore. I think I can speak for my siblings when I say that she was always there for us growing up and throughout our adult lives. Amid the chaos, she handled everything with strong faith, elegance, and grace. 

I have always loved the building process and Mar was full of ideas and inspiration. I was blessed to have such an amazing person as my mother. I have experienced situations where friends’ parents dissuaded their kids from pursuing artistic endeavors, understandably fearful of them not making a good living as adults. However, I have always believed in pursuing one’s passions because of Mars’ influence. Good decisions, hard work, and a bit of luck, as my siblings and I have personally experienced, can lead to lives that are happy, successful, and rewarding.  

Our father passed away when I was twenty-one. As you would expect, this was a trying period, but it became clear that the most crucial element of our lives is family. Mom would tell us that we were the reason for her forging ahead through that challenging time. One of my fondest memories was after I was accepted to the Art Center College Design in California.  It was made apparent that I  would need a loan to get started at this expensive school. Being the single parent of five kids, she knew this was going to be a challenge. I recall her driving me to our neighborhood bank to take out a $10,000 student loan during the mid-1970s. This might as well have been a million dollars, but Mar did not hesitate as she knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! She continued her support throughout my schooling and onto my amazing career with General Motors Design.  

My siblings and I had individual pursuits, but she energized us to succeed in our unique directions. Looking back, Mom was always ready to lace up hockey skates, shuttle us to little league games, mentor and challenge us throughout our lives. Mar, I could not have done it without you. I miss you so much and think of you every day. I am truly blessed to have you as my mother. You are worthy of having your own Nelson Riddle theme music.