Mayor Pete Buttigieg ’05– From South Bend to Oxford…and Back

March 23rd, 201511:08 am @


Update (November, 2015): Pete Buttigieg was overwhelmingly re-elected to his second term as mayor of South Bend on November 3 with over 80% of the vote.  Congratulations, Pete!


Pete Buttigieg, PPE’05, and current mayor of South Bend, Indiana, had a rude academic awakening shortly after the Rhodes Scholar arrived at Pembroke at beginning of Michelmas term 2005:  he was ejected from his first economics tutorial for lack of preparation by his tutor, Dr. Linda Yueh.

This was something of an embarrassing first for the high school valedictorian and Harvard Phi Beta Kappa, whose parents were both University of Notre Dame professors.  The problem was that Pete had scant background in economics to prepare him for the grueling economics course – an essential element of the Oxford PPE triad.

Pete Buttigieg during his student days outside the Pembroke Lodge

Pete Buttigieg during his student days outside the Pembroke Lodge

“I was terrified. This had never happened to me,” Pete told The North American Pembrokian. Instead of withdrawing for a more forgiving course of study, Pete buckled down, and by the end of that Michelmas had completed a whole year’s economics course in just one term, earning a gracious “nice job” from the very demanding Dr. Yueh.  “One of the toughest parts during that time,” he remembers, “was trying to ignore all the folks having fun singing and drinking down at Len’s Bar, opposite my room on Staricase 11.”

Taking on tough, sometimes dangerous, challenges and succeeding at them is not unusual for Pete. In 2011 he was elected mayor of his hometown South Bend, at 29 the youngest mayor of any major US city. He served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan. He has been a featured pianist with the South Bend Symphony orchestra.

As a Pembroke post-graduate reading for a second BA, Pete was a member of both the JCR – for which he rowed – and the MCR – for which he played soccer. In addition to his stressful but productive tutorials with Professor Yueh, he has fond memories of reading philosophy with the renowned Pembroke ethicist, Martha Klein.

Pete Buttigieg strokes a Pembroke Eight

Pete Buttigieg strokes a Pembroke Eight

He was recruited by former master Pembroke Giles Henderson and his wife Lynne to take care of the resident Henderson Golden Retrievers during the periods when the Hendersons were away from College. “I had the run of the Master’s Lodgings, the piano, everything. It was a very warm place, heaven,” he remembers.

During his undergraduate years at Harvard, Pete had no particular inclination to return to his Midwest roots. “I wanted to get out of a relatively small Midwest city to see the world,” he recalls.  While at Oxford, however, he often found himself looking at pictures of South Bend over the Internet, and began to feel drawn back to his hometown.

After graduating with a first in PPE, he was hired by the international consultancy McKinsey & Co. and posted to its Chicago office – within striking distance of South Bend.  Soon, he bought an old home in South Bend and began restoring it.  In 2011, after a losing race for Indiana State Treasurer, he ran for and was elected mayor of South Bend with an overwhelming 75% of the vote. Pete is up for re-election this year.

In 2013, Pete was named National Mayor of the Year by, sharing the honor with New York’s Michael Bloomberg.

In February 2014, Pete was named a Rodel Fellow at the Aspin Institute, a prestigious national leadership program which aims to bring together young elected officials to foster bridge-building across partisan divisions and seek more civility in political discourse.

During his two years at Oxford Pete became friendly with several Naval Academy graduates in his class and started thinking about military service. “There is something of a tradition of military service in my family, but I had never before done anything about it.  Then, in 2008, watching what was going on in Afghanistan and Iraq, and seeing that very few Harvard graduates were serving, I didn’t think that was right, so signed up with the Naval Reserve.”

Pete was commissioned as an officer in 2009.  In 2014, he was activated and, taking a leave of absence from his mayoral duties, spent seven months on active duty in Afghanistan, earning the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his counterterrorism work there.

Pete is carrying on something of a Hoosier-Pembroke tradition – sharing with former Indiana Senator (and current Pembroke College Foundation chairman) Dick Lugar ’54, stints as a Rhodes Scholar at Pembroke, Naval officer, and mayor of a major Indiana city (in Dick’s case, Indianapolis). “Pete’s a loyal friend of mine,” Dick recently told The North American Pembrokian, perhaps engaging in a little political forecasting “He will no doubt continue his remarkable achievements, not only for Indiana but I wouldn’t be surprised for the whole country.”

“Mayor Pete” (as he is called by his staff) is not an all-work-and-wonk-and-no-fun kind of guy, however. He has appeared as a guest pianist with the South Bend Symphony Orchestra, playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue “with technical precision”, according to The South Bend Tribune, and earning a standing ovation. Pete also occasionally plays guitar gigs with pick-up rock bands around South Bend.

Pete credits reading and studying the humanities with helping to provide him with the critical thinking skills he uses everyday as mayor. “About a year ago, I realized I was so busy I wasn’t reading much. And reading got me everything good in life. So we have a new rule in my office:  my staff has to help me protect four or five hours a week to hole up and read. And not necessarily about policy. Maybe just read about the Greeks, or history, or poetry.”

Dick Lugar ’54 (l) and Pete Buttigieg ’05 (r) – carrying on a Pembroke-Indiana tradition

Dick Lugar ’54 (l) and Pete Buttigieg ’05 (r) – carrying on a Pembroke-Indiana tradition

UPDATE:   Pete  won his mayoral primary on May 5th, 2015—with an overwhelming 78% of the vote.   Congratulations Pete!