Peter Backus 

Loving Father, Grandfather and Big Brother

By Rodney Campbell

One of this year’s Fathers of the Year has also been a good Big Brother.

Peter Backus, president of P.B. Trading Company, has three kids in a blended family with his wife of 25 years, Debbie. From their previous marriages, Peter has a daughter, Jamee, and Debbie has two sons, Ted and Trevor.

Beyond helping his own children, Peter has been involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Arizona since the late 1970s. A 1963 University of Arizona graduate, he moved back to Tucson in 1978 after more than a decade away. 

“I saw a sign for Big Brothers Big Sisters and went in for an interview,” Peter said. “They asked if I wanted to visit one of the children and I said yes. It clicked immediately.”

The boy he met was 9-year-old David Roberts, who lost his father in a mining accident seven years earlier. David, now a software instructor for Simpleview, needed a positive male role model.

“It was a critical time in my life,” David said. “I was happy and doing well, but there was a void.”

An avid outdoorsman, Peter took the young David camping, fishing, hunting and horseback riding. he accompanied Peter on camping trips with Jamee and other kids. Jamee and David also have birthdays within a week of each other.

“I used to do father-son, father-daughter trips,” Peter said. “I would organize them for my good friends. It was great to see Jamee and David get along so well.”

A good high school student, David had a rough transition to UArizona. Thankfully, Peter was there with words of advice and, after transferring, David graduated from Northern Arizona University with a sociology degree–the first from his mother’s side of the family to graduate college.

“He was incredibly helpful during that first year,” he said. “He helped me decide to chart a new course. I sometimes wonder if I would have dropped out of college and not finished without Peter.”

Peter’s influence was more personal several years ago when a family medical issue began his involvement with the Steele Children’s Research Center. His daughter’s triplets started experiencing medical problems when they were 3. By chance, he met the renowned Dr. Fayez K. Ghishan, Steele’s director, around that time and told him about the kids.

“I told him my grandchildren were having problems and he gave me his phone number and said to have Jamee call him,” Peter said.

Physicians were able to treat the children and control their medical issues. Now teens, the three kids have better lives thanks to the physicians, scientists and research done at Steele. Peter soon became a Steele board member and board chair, while Jamee is a member of the Phoenix Women’s Board for Steele – PANDA“Peter has a long history of leadership on nonprofit boards in Tucson,” Ghishan said. “It is an exciting time for Steele, and we know that Peter has the experience to help us move to the next level.”

The Backus family has been supportive of Steele’s mission for many years. For more than 20 years, Debbie ran an annual fundraiser that supported Steele and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“We raised a ton of money and had a lot of fun,” Debbie said.

It’s no surprise that the event she organized, called the Coyote Creek Ride and Fiesta, involved horses. She and Peter raised their grandkids to enjoy the outdoors at a home on 10 acres where they used to live part-time in Idaho.

“He loves to put his grandkids on horses,” Debbie said. “He interacts with them fabulously.”

Peter has stayed committed to Big Brothers Big Sisters, where he has served as the local board chair, worked on the national board, raised money for the organization and currently is on the local group’s advisory council.

“It was something I always enjoyed,” he said. “I was hook, line and sinker with the program.”

David is now married with an adult son and daughter. When he met his wife, he told her about the important role Peter played in his life. Years later, they remain very close.

“I consider him to be part of my family,” David said.

Pictured above From left – Chris, Peyton, Cameron, Jack and Jamee Emens (daughter), Peter and Debbie Backus, Rylee, Brody, Jenny and Ted Liles.

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