Peter A. Sturtevant, the former headmaster of the Maret School in Washington who was credited with guiding the preparatory school’s recovery from imminent collapse to financial and academic health, died Oct. 9 at a summer home in Brooklin, Maine. He was 89.

The cause was complications from a hip he broke three years ago, said a son, Peter A. Sturtevant Jr.

Mr. Sturtevant was on the faculty at Maret for 24 years and was head of the school for 20 years before he retired in 1994.

Founded in 1911 by a Swiss-born teacher, Louise Maret, and operating initially out of her small apartment on Rhode Island Avenue NW, the Maret School had become mired in debt, and it was losing money fast when Mr. Sturtevant was named headmaster of the K-12 institution.

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“It was a shambles,” he told the D.C. business magazine Regardie’s in 1984. “At the first board meeting after I was appointed I presented a plan to both open and close the school. . . . We had huge debts and only nineteen students reenrolled.” (It now has 650 students.)

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That first year, according to Regardie’s, Mr. Sturtevant asked Maret parents to arrange social gatherings in their Cleveland Park neighborhood near where the school is now located. There, he would plead his argument that Maret would be a good school for their children. He recruited 225 students his first year.

“A headmaster has to be a good salesman and a good actor,” he said.

Peter Albert Sturtevant was born in Washington on Sept. 5, 1930. His father was a stocks and securities broker. He graduated in 1948 from the private Choate School (now Choate Rosemary Hall) in Connecticut. At Harvard, he was asked to leave during his sophomore year.

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“Too much flamboyance! I didn’t study,” he told Regardie’s. He graduated in 1953 from Rollins College in Florida. He ran an auto dealership in Baltimore, then in 1963 received a law degree at George Washington University. He taught and coached at the all-boys Landon School in Bethesda, Md., before joining the Maret staff as development director.

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As the chief helmsman of a private preparatory school, Mr. Sturtevant was an anomaly. There was no rule book. Law and order was administered on an ad hoc basis. A Jewish student who complained that matzoh was unavailable in the school cafeteria on Passover was invited to share matzoh peanut butter sandwiches with the headmaster in his office.

He told a teacher asking for a pay raise that she would make a good used-car salesman. This was a compliment, she later learned. Into gatherings of kindergartners he sometimes tossed a large yellow banana. The child who caught it got to ask the head of the school any question he chose.

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There was a story told at his retirement about a kindergarten student who had two gerbils, both of whom were named “Mr. Sturtevant.” One morning, the child discovered that one had devoured the other. The headmaster’s response: “Now he knows which is the REAL Mr. Sturtevant.”

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To the Maret campus on Cathedral Avenue, where the main building once functioned as a summer White House in the 19th-century administrations of Presidents John Tyler, Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan and Grover Cleveland, Mr. Sturtevant added buildings. He beefed up the school’s academic program.

In retirement, Mr. Sturtevant lived in Maine, Chestertown, Md., and Sanibel, Fla. He was a fly fisherman and a sailor.

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His first marriage, to the former Frances Seiberling, ended in divorce. His second wife, Janet Knox Sturtevant, died in 1982.

Survivors include his wife of 28 years, Linda Webber Sturtevant of Brooklin and Sanibel; a daughter from his first marriage, Elizabeth Sturtevant of Battle Ground, Wash.; three sons from his second marriage, William N. Sturtevant III of Durham, N.H., Peter Albert Sturtevant Jr. of Washington and Thomas K. Sturtevant of New York City; two stepchildren, Philip Marriott of Brooklyn and Brooke Bartletta of Hingham, Mass.; and 17 grandchildren.

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