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This article is about James Blackwood Pearson, U.S. Senator. For other people of the same name see James Pearson.

James Blackwood Pearson (May 7, 1920 – January 13, 2009) was a United States Senator from Kansasmarker from 1962 to 1979.


He was born in Nashville, Tennesseemarker, son of a Methodist minister. With his parents, he moved to Virginiamarker in 1934 and attended public school. He went on to attend college at Duke Universitymarker in Durham, North Carolinamarker. 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.

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 Virginiamarker at Charlottesvillemarker in 1950. He was admitted to the bar and commenced the practice of law in Mission, Kansasmarker. 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 massacremarker in 1970, Pearson shifted his position to oppose the bombing of Laosmarker and Cambodiamarker during the Vietnam War. In the Senate he became known for working with colleagues across the political asile.

When a group of senators led by Walter Mondale of Minnesotamarker 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 collaborated with Senator Howard Cannon, D-Nevada, and others, on the former legislation and Senators Russell Long, D-Louisiana, and Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, on the latter.

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 Schoolmarker classmate, Robert F. Kennedy, at Kansas University 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 director of the East-West Institute based in Honolulu, Hawaiimarker, from 1983 to 1991. He and former Senator Abraham Ribicoff co-chaired 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. He and his wife make their home in Baldwin City, Kansasmarker.

Pearson served from January 31, 1962, until his resignation on December 23, 1978. He was not a candidate for reelection in 1978.

Pearson died January 13, 2009 at his home in Gloucester, Massachusettsmarker aged 88.


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