Former U.S. Sen. Pearson lauded for abilities, interests
Former Sen. James B. Pearson was remembered for his diverse abilities and way of life during a memorial service Friday in Baldwin City.
Pearson died Jan. 13 in Gloucester, Mass., at age 88. He was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1962 and was re-elected every six years until he retired in 1979. Pearson had a farm just outside of Baldwin City following retirement and many stories were told of his time there. He was remembered as a legislator, pilot, voracious reader, family man and someone who loved a good laugh.
“He was my friend and surely one of the greatest men I have ever been blessed to know,” said Baker University President Emeritus Dan Lambert, who got to know him well as a member of Baker’s board of trustees. “Jim Pearson had a wonderful sense of humor. He told about a campaign trip to western Kansas where he flew in and out of many places one day. By the last stop, he was getting kind of fuzzy.
“He jumped on the stand to the podium and said, ‘I can’t tell you how happy I am to be in, uh, uh, wherever the hell I am,’” said Lambert, noting that Pearson won that county in the election by a wide margin.
Lambert said it was Pearson’s love of the farm and Baldwin City that stood out to him.
“He was among Baldwin’s gentry,” said Lambert. “I think that’s the man that most of us will carry with us. He enjoyed the one-mile trip from Baldwin’s suburbs to pick up mail and talking to people.
“He loved his farm. He loved his tractor, his riding mower and, mostly, his pickup truck,” he said. “He said he trades pickups every 11 years, whether he needs to or not.”
Lambert praised Pearson for his intellect, his tremendous will and for his best act for Baldwin City — bringing his wife, Margie, here, who is still a member of Baker’s board of trustees.
“Good friends are a gift from God,” said Lambert. “We thank Him now for James Blackwood Pearson.”
Former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker was another who spoke to the crowd of more than 150, including 15 members of his family, in the First United Methodist Church. Kassebaum succeeded Pearson in the Senate. She was elected in November of 1978, but Pearson resigned the next month and the Governor appointed her to serve the remainder of his term. There was a reason.
“He stepped down early so I could gain some seniority,” said Kassebaum, noting that she’d just heard the story Friday morning of how Pearson’s resignation was signed on a napkin given to the vice president with the words “I quit.”
She credited Pearson for that — noting her husband, Howard Baker, introduced legislation to end that loophole — as well as many other attributes, such as achieving good legislation. But she also said it was farm work that pleased him most.
“Nothing means more than getting to the farm,” Kassebaum recalled Pearson saying, because clearing brush or whatever chores were necessary were easier to see the value of than legislative action. “By the end of the day, you knew what you had done.”
Throughout the service there were numerous mentions of major legislative action he was involved with, such as deregulation of natural gas and the airline industry. Kassebaum said it was his ability to work across the aisle that made him a great Senator.
“He was someone who really valued to think about government,” she said. “He didn’t have his absolutes, he had the ability to reach across. He left an understanding of how important and valuable it is to not have absolutes, but to understand another’s point of view.”
Also speaking Friday were David Seaton, Pearson’s press secretary, and James Pearson, Jr., who told about his father’s love of many things, including baseball and flying. He said his dad was the son and grandson of preachers and how he earned his law degree in Virginia after service in World War II disrupted his schooling.
The family moved to Kansas in 1954, when Pearson opened a law practice and eventually got into politics. Pearson Jr. also told a story about a summer he spent in Washington with his dad and how they debated every night when to do the dishes.
“We will remember dad as a quiet person. I can still see his impish grin. I know he was quietly very proud of his family,” said Pearson Jr., adding that he was about to say something every parent wants to hear. “Dad, about the great dish debate and other things, you were right. We will miss you.”