James B. Pearson
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James B. Pearson
|United States Senator|
January 31, 1962 – December 23, 1978
|Preceded by||Andrew F. Schoeppel|
|Succeeded by||Nancy Kassebaum|
|Chair of the Kansas Republican Party|
August 30, 1960 – December 8, 1960
|Preceded by||Sam Mellinger|
|Succeeded by||Donald Schnacke|
|Member of the Kansas Senate|
from the 6th district
January 8, 1957 – January 10, 1961
|Preceded by||John Anderson Jr.|
|Succeeded by||Clark Kuppinger|
James Blackwood Pearson
May 7, 1920
|Died||January 13, 2009 (aged 88)|
|Alma mater||Duke University (BA)|
University of Virginia (LLB)
|Branch/service||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1943–1946|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
James Pearson was born in 1920 in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of a Methodist minister. With his parents, he moved to Virginia in 1934 and attended public school. He went on to attend college at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. During the Second World War he interrupted his schooling to serve as a pilot in the air transport service of the United States Navy, flying DC3's across country (1943–1946), and was discharged as a lieutenant.
Pearson's legislative accomplishments included the "National Weather Modification Policy Act," which authorizes a member of the cabinet to "negotiate an International agreement concerning the peaceful uses of weather modification." It was written into public law October 13, 1976.
Stationed at the Olathe Naval Air Station in Kansas, Pearson met and married the former Martha Mitchell. Pearson graduated from the law school of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1950. He was admitted to the bar and commenced the practice of law in Mission, Kansas. Pearson served as Assistant County Attorney of Johnson County, Kansas from 1952 to 1954; County Probate Judge from 1954 to 1956; and was elected to the State Senate, where he served from 1956 to 1960. He did not seek reelection but returned to the practice of law. Pearson campaigned with Attorney General John Anderson for governor in 1960. Anderson was elected and Pearson became the state GOP chairman. On January 31, 1962, Anderson appointed Pearson to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Andrew F. Schoeppel. Pearson was elected on November 6, 1962, in a special election for the term ending January 3, 1967; reelected in 1966 for a full six-year term; and reelected again in 1972.
Pearson initially voted regularly with the leadership of his party, opposing Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society programs. However Pearson moderated his positions with time. Following the Kent State massacre in 1970, Pearson shifted his position to oppose the bombing of Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. In the Senate he became known for working with colleagues across the political aisle.
When a group of senators led by Walter Mondale of Minnesota set out to change the filibuster rule, which had been used to block civil rights legislation, they asked Pearson to join them. Together they reduced the number of votes required to end debate from 67 to 60. Pearson's other legislative accomplishments came as a member of the Commerce Committee, where he was the ranking minority member of its aviation subcommittee. Those successes included the creation of the airport/airways trust fund, which allowed for the expansion of the nation's airports and air traffic system, and the deregulation of "new" natural gas, which brought increased production of that clean-burning fuel.
Pearson and Democrat Fred Harris of Oklahoma introduced the first major legislation with economic incentives for rural development. With Democrat Phil Hart of Michigan, Pearson sponsored the first major campaign reform legislation following World War II. Pearson was an early supporter of consumer protection legislation.
Pearson was a member of the Wednesday Club, a group of moderate and liberal Republican senators who met for lunch to discuss issues. He opposed President Richard Nixon on several Cold War issues, but voted with the president on the Safeguard anti-missile program, which narrowly passed the Senate. The president and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, took that program to Moscow and negotiated the abolition of such systems.
Back in Kansas, Pearson was considered by some conservatives not "Republican enough." He dealt with this criticism by providing strong constituent service and championing Kansas interests, especially the aviation, oil and gas, and cattle industries. Pearson braved this criticism by introducing his University of Virginia Law School classmate, Robert F. Kennedy, at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University just days after Kennedy had announced he would run for president. On the podium, smiling, Pearson wished Kennedy a long, successful career in the Senate.
Following his reelection in 1972, Pearson was appointed by Nixon as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. He retired from the Senate in 1978 and was again named by the Senate to the U. N. delegation. Pearson was succeeded by Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker.
After retiring from the Senate, Pearson and his second wife, the former Margaret Lynch, traveled frequently to Japan and Southeast Asia. Pearson served as a member of the Board of Governors of the East-West Center based in Honolulu, Hawaii, from 1983 to 1991. He and former Senator Ribicoff were selected by the Senate to co-chair a commission to study the structure and procedures of the Senate. After leaving the Senate Pearson had a relationship with the Washington, D. C. office of the law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Lieby and MacRae.
A fellowship program named for Pearson allows foreign service officers to work temporarily in other branches of government, including state and local, to learn more about domestic politics. In Kansas, a Pearson Fellowship helps graduates of public universities study abroad. The U.S. Post Office in Prairie Village, Pearson's home town, was named the James B. Pearson Post Office in 2004.
Pearson's children include three sons, James, William, and Thomas, and a daughter, Laura.
Pearson served from January 31, 1962 until his resignation on December 23, 1978. He was not a candidate for re-election in 1978.
Pearson died on January 13, 2009 at his home in Gloucester, Massachusetts at the age of 88.
As of 2016, Pearson is the last U.S. Senator from Kansas from the Kansas City metropolitan area, even though Johnson County has the state's largest population.