Denfeld News

May 15, 2006
Duluth News Tribune

Ex-superintendent Richard Pearson dies
By Steve Kuchera

Longtime Duluth schools superintendent Richard B. Pearson died Friday of complications from lung cancer.

Pearson, who would have turned 73 on May 20, led the school district for 14 years before retiring in 1986.

"To this day, people who worked with Dick when he was superintendent have always thought of him as the superintendent," said Duluth Federation of Teachers President Frank Wanner. "He made his mark on the school district and those of us who worked with him had a lot of respect for him."

Pearson, who had worked in the Duluth school district for 24 years, was diagnosed with lung cancer in October. He was undergoing radiation treatment.

"He was a very caring and considerate guy," said Robyn Weaver, pastor at Glen Avon Presbyterian Church, where Pearson was an elder and active in the men's group.

"My husband has been working on a Ph.D., and even in the midst of his illness Dick would ask, 'How the heck is Lon doing with his work?' " Weaver said. "He really cared about other people, even in the midst of the difficulties he had been in."

Pearson's son and daughter remember how their father made a point of learning people's names.

"I think that shows how much he cared about people," Tom Pearson said. "We are going to miss him."

In addition to his son, Pearson is survived by Bertha, his wife of 45 years, and daughter Sarah Goulet, a controller with the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities.

Tom Pearson is a teacher and head basketball coach at Central High School.

"I've been teaching 14, 15 years and people always say how good a superintendent he was and how much they miss him as superintendent," Tom Pearson said of his father.

Richard Pearson was Duluth's first superintendent with Duluth ties -- growing up in the West End and West Duluth. He attended Bryant and Merritt elementary schools, West Junior and Denfeld High, from which he graduated in 1951.

He attended UMD, earning a bachelor's degree in elementary education and social studies in 1955. He taught at Lester Park Elementary before being drafted into the Army, which stationed him with a counter-intelligence unit in West Germany in the late 1950s.

Returning to Duluth, he taught at Laura MacArthur school. He became principal of the school after four years. After another four years he was appointed administrative assistant in charge of grant programs.

After several months he left Duluth to pursue a doctorate at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Returning to Duluth in 1968, he assumed the position of assistant superintendent for special services, the post he held until becoming superintendent.

Pearson grappled with some tough challenges during his years as superintendent. Enrollment had begun to decline, forcing layoffs and program cuts. The city's economy suffered some severe blows. There was a teachers strike in 1983.

Through it all, Pearson remained a popular and effective superintendent, Wanner said.

"He had a lot of compassion for the teachers he worked with," said Wanner, who was in his second year of teaching when Pearson became superintendent.

"I was always impressed with his knowledge of education," Wanner said. "He was well-read and thoughtful. He was instrumental in creating the first public school labor-management program in the country. He was a forward-thinking person."

After resigning as Duluth superintendent, Pearson served as interim superintendent in Superior for several months. He also served as interim principal at Homecroft and worked for the Minnesota Department of Education.

"Other than that, he and my mom did quite a bit of traveling, and he was involved in curling and golfing and the DECC board and Planning Commission," Sarah Goulet said. "For the most part, by 1992 he was done working."

Pearson served on the DECC board for six years.

"He was one of the most likeable people you would ever meet," DECC Executive Director Dan Russell said.

And with his intelligence and local ties, Pearson was invaluable on the board, Russell said.

"I was always proud he was my dad," Goulet said. "I was always proud of him and the things he accomplished and how he treated other people."

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