May 15, 2006
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
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."